The Slants – The Yellow Album
“I said, empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”
In the fashion of other famed albums named after color, The Yellow Album delivers a solid, jaw-cracking, spit-foaming punch to the stagnant rock scene in the Pacific Northwest. From the windy vales of Portland, Oregon, The Slants have been contributing to the music scene, opening eyes and ears to the Asian-American perspective of musicians on the borderlands. They started with their 2007 release Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts, and followed up with their 2010 release Pageantry. Since then, they’ve been lurking in outskirts of celebrity with audiences of niche audiophiles. Now they are ready for a new story arc that gains them the attention of the world.
The drum-roll overthrows the last words of Bruce Lee and drops you into the battlefield of cardboard mecha, red bull, and anime cut scenes with “Con Kids.”
Above all else, this song addresses the fans. The Slants have inherited enthusiasm that is experienced at conventions from their many past gigs, and condensed it into a rocking homage to youth, and boy, does it make my kokoro go dokidoki. With a sailing synth lead-in to the punkest song about the nerds to ever exist, the group delivers an awesome call-to-arms about the escapist weekend cult culture. More importantly, the lyrics address how the trends that kids are into are appropriations of Asian culture, but that their enthusiasm helps defines the artistic and unifying aspect of it. Anyone who knows anime knows that there is a fine line between what is right on a cultural basis, and what is fine within the genre; fans are always ready to defend themselves against the grain of society, and the hardcore ones will fight you for it.
The Slants call their genre of music “Chinatown Dance Rock.” You can’t disagree when you hear the chorus for “Love Letter from Andromeda,” and imagine yourself cruising through a nebula without the weight of gravity to weigh you down to your earthly troubles. With the compositional elements that reflect Mindless Self Indulgence and She Wants Revenge, it’s easy to lose yourself to The Slants in a dancing fit to the sheer volume of electronic manipulation: consistent guitar rhythms paired with the exuberant digital accents, and dramatic vocal harmonies. The subject matter of their songs revolves around the not-so-simple concept of love, emerging in wanton, funky themes in tracks like “Just One Kiss,” and “Sour Love.”
Their musical roots stem back to 80’s synth-pop (a la Depeche Moda) dance music suited for a fight scene in Tarantino’s next blockbuster. But their fighting spirit exclusively comes from their pride in their differing Asian-American heritage. The Slants are happy to stand out among the white-washed musical enclave of happenstance folk artists, and even more insistent that they be recognized for it. The Yellow Album is a title that is every bit as racial as it is intentional. Their work is enriched by it ethnic proclivity, with anecdotal lyrics that reflect their personal histories living in between American and varying Asian cultures, with language that’s as stirring as haunting. Tracks like “Abandoned,” are writtan about this disparity. Lead singer Aron Moxley recounts, “I was one of the babies born in Saigon during the Vietnam War. I’ll never know my real birthday, let alone find out who my mother is or know if she’s still alive.”
Even more telling is the final track “Yellow,” which offer a wider perspective on the symbiotic relationship of race to relation. “How about you?” the lyrics probe, forcing the audience to examine the bureaucracy of free speech as the band has in their struggle to trademark their own name.
It doesn’t matter how firmly reclamation plays a part in social construction of language, their band name was deemed, “too Asian,” by the board and subsequently ignored their right to their own trademarked. Above all else, the band deserves the right to define themselves as well as their music. A patent office shouldn’t be allowed stifle that right. Tam says in recent interview with NPR, “[The name is] certainly a part of our group’s identity and part of our music…By the very nature of them regulating something like this in the marketplace, it hurts our ability to protect our band.” Please sign Simon Tam’s petition to stop the trademark office from denying rights based on race.
The Slants will be in Stanford come January 18, and then heading north to my homebase in the Emerald City on Feb 8. Consider that seat sold, even though I won’t be needing it to sit down, oh no, sir!
Equip your highest leveled cans and start hoarding the energy drinks. Your lessons are not over, Grasshopper. Your adventure into The Yellow Album has only just begun.
WORDKRAPHT Rating: 4 Stars
Album Name: The Yellow Album
Release Date: November, 2012
Location: Portland, OR
Genre: Electronic, Dance, Pop-Punk,
Members: Aron Moxley – Lead Vocals, Simon Young – Bass, Will Moore – Lead Guitar, Thai Dao – Keyboards & Guitar,
Tyler Chen – Drums, Ken Simon – Road warrior (tech, driving, loading, fixing)