Rainbow Chan: Spacings

Scott Wallace
22nd Aug 2016

Spacings, the keenly anticipated debut album from Sydney producer and singer Rainbow Chan is almost post-genre. It is a boldly original combination of influences and styles that is genius in its construction and deceptively simple in execution, making for what may be one of the finest albums of the year. The record shows us that pop has become permeable - formulas unreliable - and true invention like this is a rare and beautiful thing to encounter.

Rainbow Chan has a gift for smart and sometimes deceptive arrangements, perhaps informed by her background in saxophone, piano and choral singing. After the impressionistic opening “Only Kindling,” which combines a wash of voices (some of them cut into pieces and artfully pitch-shifted) and restless rhythms, the single “Nest” creates minimalist pop magic. A few airborne ribbons of synthesiser melody hang like garlands on the effortlessly commanding vocals that wistfully reflect on the brighter moments of a failed relationship.

In the clattering electronic rhythms and silky melodies of the record, there is a powerful femininity that sometimes recalls Janet Jackson at her best. Chan has a high, somewhat thin voice, but she is never lost in the glow of her luminous electronic pop creations. “Stretched,” for example, features kinetic saxophone, cartoonish droplets of synth, funky slap bass and an appearance by Melbourne rapper and beatmaker HTMLflowers, but Chan rides atop it without breaking a sweat.

Speaking of which, “Work” (especially with its accompanying video) is part battle cry, part aerobics session. “You’ve got to work harder for my love,” Chan declares over vogue house-inspired kick drums and sputtering hi-hats that almost force the wiggling of limbs. The following track “Pearled Into,” by contrast, sounds like a madrigal floating over canyon-sized bass, building to an earth-shaking climax before the listener even realises. Despite these juxtapositions though, there is a constant sense of flow and discourse throughout the record.

Chan’s lyrics reflect on memory and loss, but also on her own sense of self and growth. “Shell,” arguably the record’s most pure pop moment, begins hard and insular, with steely chimes and a rigid beat, but before long blossoms into a flourishing bed of melody. A coda of beautiful vocal ad-libs illuminates the final chorus: “You left me with a shell. Baby, can’t you tell, that flesh will start to grow and fill our empty cages well.”

The album’s penultimate track, “The Letter” is simultaneously so elegant and heartfelt that, if it weren’t for its busy, bubbling production, it wouldn’t sound out of place being sung by Julie Andrews in a musical. In the hands of another artist, it may have sounded hopelessly naff, but Rainbow Chan is so earnest and open that she wrings pathos out of every sound.

The album ends on a subdued, but no less brilliant, note. The warm, drifting ambience of “Coalesce” is like a lullaby, creating a sense of fullness and finality, but also linking back to the ghostly voices that opened the record. Spacings sounds like a process of examination and self-invention for Rainbow Chan, and from beginning to end it’s absolutely thrilling to behold.

Spacings is out on digital formats on Friday August 26th. Rainbow Chan is playing an album launch show at Newtown Social Club on Friday September 16th at Newtown Social Club.