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Serj Tankian-Left of Center-Portrait

Serj Tankian’s Perfect Harmony

written by: on February 3, 2011

There are some things in life that are simply meant for each other: Peanut butter and jelly, Paris Hilton and coke and of course, politics and Serj Tankian.

His “Left of Center,” one of the two singles off his second project as a solo artist, Imperfect Harmonies, represents Tankian totally in his acoustic element. He travels outside that safe zone, however, with the addition of a full legato orchestra.

Laden with classic Tankian angst, the track is a call to arms against a dysfunctional government.

The piece opens with a dominating, low piano tone, shadowed by a barrage of sadistic strings that lead the listener down to a figurative basement, where Tankian’s darkest politically charge thoughts are housed.

Typical orchestral work adds a classical, refined air to music, but with “Left of Center,” it dictates the battle between chaos and order.

Strings are the new addition to the artist’s instrument arsenal. Tankian first experimented with the idea when he incorporated New Zealand’s Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra for his 2009 CD/DVD Elect the Dead Symphony.

The 70-piece orchestra added a whole new dimension to the tracks from Tankian’s first solo-endeavor. So pleased with the result, he decided to repeat the effect throughout Imperfect Harmonies. Typical orchestral work adds a classical, refined air to music, but with “Left of Center,” it dictates the battle between chaos and order.

Although the opening instrumental work is structurally sound, it rapidly deteriorates with a striking electric guitar and a commanding slap bass, leading into Tankian’s operatic voice as he sings, “Are we a fantasy, swimming in theocracy?”

Beating around the bush was never his style.

Although the opening instrumental work is structurally sound, it rapidly deteriorates with a striking electric guitar and a commanding slap bass, leading into Tankian’s operatic voice as he sings, “Are we a fantasy, swimming in theocracy?”

The first half of the track is characterized by Tankian casting a negative shadow on the government, and at the same time, developing the idea of ignorance of the American citizen.

The music video projects Americans as technology addicts, oblivious to the world outside of a television. He sings lines like, “We lost the key of sight/Now blind we fear in flight.”

An undertone of resentment that starts out vague grows through the first verse, building up to a chorus charged with passionate fury.

With each chorus, Tankian’s voice matches the background music—a swirling chaos of emotional outburst. He paints a picture of a futile effort of dropping bombs in hopes of restoring peace as he vehemently chants, “Bombing your ignorance,” then adds, “we’re feeding your insolence”—the exact opposite of the original goal.

With each chorus, Tankian’s voice matches the background music—a swirling chaos of emotional outburst.

Each piece of choral explosion is punctuated by a stabbing cry of, “We’re going too far,” while the tone is reflected in the disorder of the supporting instruments. Individual sounds fuse together, forming moody and muddy tones that make it nearly impossible to distinguish one instrument from the next.

With the choral climax hit, the song descends into the next verse. Order is restored as the mess of instrumentals slows and begins to separate again into distinctive tones, while Tankian’s seething vocals calm to a low-pitched brood.

The piece comes full circle when the music breaks, giving way to the melancholic piano tune from the opening, supported by the ever-present orchestra.

The overall tone quickly digresses from the full-bodied sound that commands the majority of the track. Tankian’s vocals mirror the tone of the music, coming across as abnormally quiet and controlled as he whispers, “We go forward/We go backward.”

As was typical in System of a Down albums, the break in the chaos does not last long. Tankian crescendos as the electric pieces come back in to play, building to a final choral apex.

Lyrically, “Left of Center” would have blended well into Tankian’s first solo album, Elect the Dead, which was, as the title suggests, almost entirely focused on political issues.

Acoustically, the single tells an entirely different story. The prior album had been solidly progressive rock—aligning more with the artist’s work while with his prior band. This time, however, Tankian looked for something deeper than that.

For Imperfect Harmonies, he looked to further develop a rock sound, and also add an air of classical music to it. The differing sounds of typical electric instruments meld with the full legato orchestra, to create a dark, full sound that Tankian fans hadn’t experienced before.

  • Chris

    I would say it’s more like Serj Tankian and Daron Malakian were meant for each other. It seems like nothing Serj does without him is nearly as good as the collaborative work in System of a Down.

    Still, it is true that Serj and politics go hand-in-hand. Good write-up.