Teng's Flamboyant Contraption Takes Off
In the beginning, "I Don't Feel So Well" sounds like an intermediate theory student's two-part counterpoint study. Against clustered upper-register piano chords, the prim voice of Vienna Teng threads a line that might have been borrowed from a baroque etude.
It's pleasant, but hardly exceptional: As with many of this pianist and chamber-pop composer's songs, it only becomes compelling as it goes along. Step by careful step, Teng builds the song outward, until what began in an 18th-century manor in old Europe becomes a gaudy bit of dance entertainment in a boisterous Buenos Aires bar. Each eight or so measures, she adds a different tone or just slightly gooses the rhythm: The second verse gets steadying acoustic bass, while the bridge adds a solo viola and then a spry, almost celebratory string quartet. Later, as the strings play increasingly busy lines, an accordion appears — and that cajoles Teng to attack the piano with the fierce chordal jabs associated with tango.
This big, flamboyant contraption would be largely a novelty were it not for Teng's vocals. Whispering sweetly and singing odd intervallic leaps with exacting precision, she lingers over lines others smother, and playfully delivers the lyric in a way that perfectly mirrors the textures developing in the arrangement at that moment. The words themselves are repetitious — she's not feeling well, she thought you should know — but like lots of great music written for theater, they acquire a deep, distinct resonance after Teng sends them halfway around the world.
Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'
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