Designed For Disaster – Yang
A couple of years ago back in 2019, I was approached by the French guitarist Frédéric L’Épée asking me if I would review his new solo album at the time entitled The Empty Room. Having had a good listen to it I was quite impressed by his guitar skills and the music on the album was not bad either which led me to take on the review which you can find here: https://leespeaksoutaboutmusic.wordpress.com/2019/08/01/lee-speaks-about-music-119/
The Empty Room is very much an instrumental album and perhaps not an album that will set the world on fire so to speak. But nevertheless had some very good substance and touches on certain moods that were appealing enough for my ears. It also gave me enough to write about though that may very well have been down to the background behind the man himself.
Frédéric L’Épée has a long history in progrock as a matter of fact its that long that it stretches right back to when progrock was still in fruition with the band he put together Shylock. Over the years he has been involved in a number of bands and projects including his own solo career.
I have to confess that the band in question here Yang (which is still one of his ongoing projects) was perhaps the least impressive to my ears. Though back then when I wrote my review I only ever heard a single track by them and it was not from the latest offering they have here.
It was back in March of this year that I was approached once again by Frédéric who offered me a free digital download of the band’s latest album in exchange for a review. To be honest, since losing my wife to cancer at the end of last year my reviews have taken a back seat and I have not been able to spend the time I used to on writing them. I still have quite a few albums and box sets to review from last year so I was not sure I wanted to take on any more reviews right now.
However, I decided to download the album and give it a spin at least that way I would have some inclination as to if the album was worth reviewing or not. I can tell you that I was more than impressed and upon listening to the album I instantly knew that a digital download would not be sufficient and ended up buying the CD.
Yang’s latest album Designed For Disaster is the 4th studio album released by the band since it was put together back in 2002. Although I have only ever heard one track by the band before just by looking at the band’s discography I can tell that this latest album is perhaps a different breed in relation to what came before it. Though I must stress only really in the way that it contains one other element that their previous three albums never had. But before I go any further let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork.
Packaging & Artwork…
Well as you can see the CD comes in a standard plastic Jewel Case which I do regard these days as the old fashion way of doing things in relation to cardboard Digipaks and Digisleeves that are my prefered choice. Nevertheless, it protects the disc well and they are cheap enough to replace if the case splits or gets damaged which is perhaps an advantage and something that could not be done with a Digipak or Digisleeve.
The booklet is only a gatefold or 4-page one that mainly caters for the lyrics with the production liner notes and credits printed on the back of the case. It does not come with any other useful informative information and in terms of presentation, it is a bit on the box standard side of things.
I purchased my copy from Amazon UK for £13.04 which is on the expensive side although it is an import so its heavier price tag is perhaps to be expected. I would also suggest you use other online retailers such as Amazon in relation to Bandcamp where you could wind up paying anywhere from £22 – £30 depending on where you live which is well over the odds for the price of a CD.
The artwork and cover design was done by Jean-Christian Phillippart who incorporated characters from Bruno Mendonça’s “L’alphabet Imaginaire” which translates to “The imaginary alphabet”. I do believe they used some of the weird writing on the cover of their previous album The Failure of Words. Looking at the artwork itself it’s perhaps a bit obvious that this is no golden child especially if you take the title of the album into consideration. However, there are quite a few ways you can look at this and I think it’s quite good how the picture marries up with the album’s title.
The Album In Review…
The album Designed For Disaster by Yang was released on the 25th of February 2022. The album contains 12 tracks spread over and an overall playing time of 61 minutes, 55 seconds which is on the lengthy side but nevertheless, I think the material is strong enough to hold up over this distance. It’s not as if the band are putting out an album every year either and you would have to go back five years since their last album and they have only produced four albums since 2004.
Most of the tracks on the album are instrumental which is perhaps nothing unusual and to be expected from Frédéric L’Épée who is the brainchild behind all the written material and of the band. Practically every project he has been involved in apart from Lobotonics who churned out a one-off EP back in 2013 runs along the same lines, You could say he is a man of very few words.
However, for this album, he has written a few words and brought in a guest female vocalist who goes by the name of Ayşe Cansu Tanrikulu and this is that other element or ingredient that perhaps makes this album a different breed in relation to its predecessors. I have to say it works very well for it particularly in breaking up the monotony that many instrumental albums can often present to you.
To be honest instrumental albums are not really my bag and you have to be doing something very special to make them work. From a guitarist’s point of view, you really have to make the guitar do the talking and singing to make an instrumental track interesting enough to work which Joe Satriani certainly did with all the tracks on his second album Surfing with the Alien back in 1987.
The Snow Goose by Camel is another fine example of a good instrumental album in which they use more or less a classical structure where the music can be more diverse and take you somewhere else to make it interesting enough. The many other elements of instrumentation including an orchestra also add to keeping one attentive to the album. I could say the same thing about Mike Oldfield who also uses many other elements of instrumentation and the way he combines acoustic guitar with electric is also a key factor in making a good instrumental album.
For many years now L’Épée’s style of guitar playing has been likened to Robert Fripp in that he uses the same technique known as FRIPPERTRONICS! Now I am not saying that this technique is not complex but it’s absolutely pointless when it comes to making a guitar do the talking and singing.
I am pretty sure that if the King Crimson albums from In The Court of the Crimson King up to Red were all instrumental albums they would bore my socks off. They would have had more chance of doing such a thing much later when they had Adrian Belew in the band whose lead lines are very much more capable of doing the talking and singing.
Now I am not suggesting for one minute that the instrumental tracks on Designed For Disaster are boring and do not keep one attentive. To be perfectly honest some of them are quite mind-blowing but what makes this album work more than anything is the fact that there are vocal tracks and not just a couple of them. The way they have also been placed on the album is also very well thought-out and it shows that a lot of care and attention has been applied to this fine body of work.
I have no idea when Frédéric started to work and record the new material or what time frame was spent on it, but I would suspect it would have been over the last couple of years judging by a video I saw of the two guitarists playing the intro to one of the songs on the album. The material itself was recorded at various locations in Berlin, Germany with various recording engineers at the helm of it.
Apart from the bands debut album A Complex Nature, the lineup of the band has been pretty much consistent and only the second guitarist and bassist were replaced back in 2005. The current lineup has been together a good 17 years now and only the drummer Volodia Brice has been with L’Épée much longer has he also played on the final Philharmonie album Le Derner MOT back in 1998.
One of the things I did take note of in the musician’s credits on the album is that all four main core members of the band were credited with the word “Chorus” beside their main instruments. I can only presume that these are the backing or harmony vocals (as you can see them doing them in the picture above) it’s strange how the native language of other countries differs from my own. I must admit when I first saw the words I thought they all had chorus pedals 😊😊😊.
Musicians & Credits…
All Music & Fragemented Lyrics Written by Frédéric L’Epée. Produced by Markus Reuter & Frédéric L’Epée. Recorded at various locations in Berlin, Anthéor, La Turbie and La Ciotat. Drums recorded by Sebastien Caviggia at Le Cri de la Tarente Studio, La Ciotat. Vocals recorded by Benjamin Schäfer at Unsung Studio in Berlin Germany. Art & Cover Design by Jean-Christian Phillippart. Strange Characters by Bruno Mendonça.
Frédéric L’Epée: Guitars – Synth – Chorus.
Laurent James: Guitars – Chorus.
Nico Gomez: Bass – Chorus.
Volodia Brice: Drums – Chorus.
Ayşe Cansu Tanrikulu: Voice (Tracks 1, 5, 6, 9, 12)
The Album Tracks In Review…
Designed For Disaster by Yang is not really a concept album although some of the tracks on the album may very well reflect upon the meaning behind the album’s title and how it ties in with the picture of the unborn child on the album cover. A lot of the inspiration behind the title and some of its tracks came from the adventure we have been through with Covid over the past few years.
As I mentioned earlier there are quite a few ways you can look at things with how the title and the picture on the album cover marry up, even the current ongoing war with Russia and Ukraine would tie in with things here. Many of the disasters in this world were brought on by mankind itself and you could say that much of mankind was designed for destruction and love and peace always tend to be put on the back burner or seat so to speak.
There are plenty of influences throughout many of the tracks on the album and no doubt with some of them the likes of Robert Fripp and King Crimson will spring to mind. In many respects, I feel that the vocal tracks bring something else to the table although once again I am hearing influences and I do feel that even the voice of Ayşe Cansu Tanrikulu is also influenced by somebody else to a degree. So let’s now dive in and take a closer look at the album as I take you through the tracks.
Track 1. Descendance.
The album kicks off with the first of five vocal tracks that are spread throughout the album. Its opening melodic lines on the twin guitars do put you in mind of Robert Fripp. However, when the drums kick in the heavier guitars that drive it along are much denser and along with Ayşe Cansu Tanrikulu’s voice it puts me in mind of Bill Bruford’s debut album Feels Good To Me but perhaps minus the man himself. Though that’s not to take anything away from Volodia Brice who is doing what is expected it’s just that Bruford’s style and sound on the drum kit are really one of a kind excusing the pun.
I would not say that Tanrikulu’s voice is entirely like that of Annette Peacock though there are certain attributes that have me thinking of her and it may be down to the attitude in how she delivers the vocals. Peacock’s voice is perhaps more TRIPPY! and far out and she really does sound like she is out of her head or from another planet at times 😊😊😊. But both have speaking voices and mannerisms in their vocal characteristics which is why I also get a resemblance between the two.
The guitar solo also puts me in mind of Fripp in particular with its sound and I must admit when I first heard this song the sustained synth sound sounded like it was going to go on forever and I found it a bit annoying. Thankfully it never and I did get used to it after a couple of spins. I am pretty sure L’Epée is using a guitar synth and not an actual synthesizer. Speaking of the lead break the bass lines played by Nico Gomez throughout it are quite impressive.
The lyrical content is pertaining to the connection with one’s offspring as the title of the song suggests and this might not be the case of wanting to be tied to their mother’s apron strings in some respects so to speak. I will say that the lyrics L’Epée has written are very well put into context even though they may be a bit hard to grasp but at least that way you can make your own interpretations of them which is the good thing in my book.
Track 2. Collision Course.
Things start to heat up a bit and the first of the seven instrumental tracks is one of the lengthier tracks on the album. It’s also quite CRIMSON-ESC! apart from the opening synth intro to which a sequencer has been used and some other diversions, it goes on as it travels along. Speaking of King Crimson it tends to borrow a few things from the “Larks” period though it also takes in some of the Adrian Belew eras of the band. I mention the Belew side of things with the way that Laurent James is feeding his guitar off L’Epée and mostly they are playing in unison with one another.
It’s a track that motors its way along at a blistering pace and is quite menacing in the way of a FRENZY! This does tie in very well with the title and the music does fit the bill in that respect. No doubt the two guitarists are doing the BIZZO! but once again the work that Gomez puts into it with his bass guitar is very impressive. Even Brice is doing a STELLAR! job as you can see in this video of him playing the drum parts to the track on the band’s Tube Channell.
I see the video was also put out on the day of the album’s release. As a unit, the band are really on fire here and this is very much my personal favourite instrumental track on the album and a strong contender for the album’s TOP SPOT AWARD!
Track 3. Disentropy.
Another heavy track though not quite the blistering pace as the previous one and this one has perhaps a bit more dramatics playing a part. It’s also verging on the heavier side of the material that Fripp & Co. put into the album Red. According to the form, the word “Disentropy” is a measure of order or certainty whilst “Entropy” is the opposite and is a measure of disorder or uncertainty. The dramatics I am hearing in the music has a sense of danger about it which I personally feel is more associated with the word “Entropy” which is why I chose of picture of discentropic tragedy.
Track 4. Interlude – Golem.
The first of three short interludes on the album and I have to confess that when I saw the word “Golem” I immediately was thinking of the character in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings although the word associated with that chap is spelt differently. The “Golem” we have here is an animated anthropomorphic being in Jewish folklore which is entirely created from inanimate matter (usually clay or mud).
The music puts over the god-like monster quite well and even though I am not entirely sure it does sound like this piece might just feature L’Epée on his own. According to legend, the Golem is not all evil though quite often the end result will be destructive. Over the centuries, it has also been used to connote war, community, isolation, hope, and despair.
Track 5. Words.
This next track personally for me is the most disappointing track on the album. Considering it’s called “Words” they are perhaps words of nonsense repeated over and over and even more disappointing is the fact that this is one of the five vocal tracks. The musical side of things is CRIMSON-ESC! but once again very repetitive and it sounds like the whole thing is done on a continuous loop. It’s not unusual for King Crimson to come up with the same kind of garbage at times either.
I am perhaps being a bit harsh and things could have been better if they only went around once and kept it short like one of the interludes on the album. I can understand the meaningless words are also aimed at trying to put across or purvey some sort of monster like the Golem for example. However, I am afraid that the repetitiveness of it all was way too much and I have no further words for this one 😊😊😊.
Track 6. Flower You.
From the worst track on the album to what I would call the best, this is my personal favourite track on the album and once again it’s a vocal track that has very few words but at least the words here have meaning and a purpose. I know in the write up to the album that L’Epée quoted “I don’t want people to really follow the words and try to explain what is being said; it’s mostly to feel things.” and those words might very well have been aimed at the previous track. But if you are going to put words into any song they have to be there for a purpose.
To be perfectly honest most words in progrock don’t say a “Dickie Bird” to me because most of them are based on Greek mythology and other fantasies and myths and when it comes to progrock it is always the music that will come first to me and not the lyrics.
In Songwriter’s songs, it’s the opposite because in most cases it is the lyrical content and voice that will carry the song. Both songs that Don Mclean wrote back in the 70’s “American Pie” and “Vincent” are two prime examples of well-written Songwriter songs. Without words and a voice, you simply have not got a song and no instrumental track should be called a song either like many people so wrongly do.
Speaking of a voice Tanrikulu really shows that she has one in this song and not only does she sing but so does the lead work on the guitar and both the words and music pretty much make a statement which is what makes a GREAT! song. It’s also got a GREAT! melodic structure, even a mellotron as well and you can listen to the song here that the band’s record label Cuneiform Records posted on their Tube Channell.
Although the song does have very few words the contents of the lyrics here could easily apply to the Golem. However, when you look at the strange title it has been given and in particular the words “Unintentional destruction” you soon get to see that they have another meaning as in the picture I have chosen. The words we have here could also tie in with the album’s title and this could very well be the album’s self-titled track. It is for me the track that takes away the album’s TOP SPOT AWARD!
Track 7. Unisson.
Some of the titles on the album are in French as is the case of the one we have here and it’s not misspelt or an error. I am pretty sure that L’Epée’s solo album The Empty Room also came with English and French titles and one of the reasons for this may very well be down to that sometimes it’s hard to get the right meaning for certain words when translating them from one country to another. Although in the case of the title we have here I am pretty sure it’s fairly obvious that the word is “Unison”.
In unison, the band certainly are and not only are the two guitarists feeding off one another and making up the melodic structure we have here that drives it along but the bass also joins in and makes up part of it and harmonises very well alongside it all too. Once again everything here is quite CRIMSON-ESC! in particular with the Belew era of the band and this piece meanders its way along at a nice steady pace. I do however feel that some of the lines we have here are too close and they may very well have overstepped their mark with the influence of the band.
Track 8. Interlude – Echo.
The second of the three interludes helps to break things up a bit and take us away from the CRIMSON! vibe of things. It’s quite a short and sweet little number and the shortest track on the album. It perhaps slightly echoes back to The Shadows even if it’s not quite like something they would do sort of thing and I guess the sweetness of it all has me thinking along those lines. Unlike the first interlude, the whole band join in on this one too.
Track 9. Migrations.
From the shortest to the longest track on the album and this is another of the better vocal tracks on the album. Like the opening track, this also puts me in mind of Bruford’s debut album Feels Good To Me, not just with the vocal side of things but some of the jazzy textures. What I like in particular about this song is how well they utilise the extra time and space to take it somewhere else, especially in the musical sections.
The other thing I like is that we have some fine lead guitar lines instead of all the rhythmical structure which I often associate with FRIPPERTRONICS! This is another song that has been very well structured musically and once again the lyrical content is well apt to the title. It has bags of diversity and progression and is very much another strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT!
Track 10. La Voie Du Mensonge.
Another track where the title is in French and translates to “The Way of Lies” hence the picture I chose for this one is something along the lines of Pinnochio. Like the 2nd track on the album, this also puts me in mind of the Belew era of King Crimson and although this instrumental piece does not have the blistering pace of “Collision Course” it is, without doubt, another of the better instrumental tracks on the album I feel.
Track 11. Interlude – Décombres.
The final interlude on the album translates to “Rubble” and this is slightly the longer of the interludes with it being over the two-minute mark. Here the guitar is doing some noodling and clanging its way along as if it’s ringing out a sense of danger. There is a feeling of desolation to it all and it’s well apt to its title. I think it works well as an interlude but that’s about all.
Track 12. Despite Origins.
The final track is mainly instrumental though like the 5th track “Words” it does have a few fragmented words to which they all join in putting them across. It’s not so nonsensical and is fitting to the title that refers to an act showing contempt or defiance. It also has a lot more diversity with its musical structure and once again is quite CRIMSON-ESC! in parts.
This particular track Frédéric dedicates to his friend Mathieu Broquerie, who was a former student and talented musician, who suddenly passed away on September 17, 2018. It puts the album to bed very well and I also see it as another contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!
Summary & Conclusion…
To sum up and conclude my review of Designed For Disaster by Yang. It’s very much an album that has a voice and that is why this latest incarnation of the band speaks to me a lot more in relation to anything the band have previously done. Whilst working on my review I did spend some time listening to a lot more of the bands material from their previous albums and even watched a few live videos and I am still not that impressed at all by their previous works.
Yang is very much a band that does tend to be too influenced in particular by the Adrian Belew era of King Crimson. That is even how they come across when you watch them live. No doubt they are very good musicians but they don’t quite have what that era of CRIMSON! has and that is a voice. At least not until now and personally I think they need to make Ayşe Cansu Tanrikulu a permanent member of the band rather than just a guest vocalist.
It is her voice I feel that has brought something new to the table and in some respects led them to discover other avenues within the written material and take it away from being too overinfluenced by King Crimson all the time.
To give you an example of just how this band is heavily influenced by the Belew era of Crimson here they are back in 2018 performing “Massacre” from their second album Machines at Crescendo Festival in France. Now to be honest I quite like this track because at least it does have some lead structure and no doubt the band did a terrific job on it and the applause at the end was well deserved.
They also performed “Le Procès” from the same album at the festival and “Lago” from their previous album The Failure of Words (all of which can be found on their Tube Channel) and there is no doubt the band are doing a GREAT! job on these tracks. But they are too rhymical for my personal taste and are lacking what Belew brought to King Crimson and this is this band does not say a lot or enough for me to go out and buy their previous albums.
In my personal opinion, their latest album Designed For Disaster is by far the strongest output the band have put out so far and even though it’s not what I would call a solid album it does however on most occasions have the excitement to draw you in and has plenty of enough to offer. My personal highlights from the album are as follows: “Flower You“, “Collision Course“, “Migrations“, “Despite Origins” and “Descendance“.
A Disaster On The Right Collison Course…
The Album Tracklisting is as follows:
01. Descendance. 5:27.
02. Collision Course. 7:24.
03. Disentropy. 6:07.
04. Interlude – Golem. 1:38.
05. Words. 4:29.
06. Flower You. 4:48.
07. Unisson. 5:18.
08. Interlude – Echo. 1:31.
09. Migrations. 10:39.
10. La Voie Du Mensonge. 6:19.
11. Interlude – Décombres. 2:16.
12. Despite Origins. 5:59.