Elasticity is out now via Alchemy Recordings/BMG.
Elasticity refers to the amount a variable changes in response to another, for example, the sales of a cola brand versus its price fluctuations. Serj Tankian’s latest release demonstrates inelasticity, resisting the influence of his bevy of varied projects and settling on a sound both flat and dated. Elasticity isn’t Serj’s momentous return to rock, nor is it as unsettling as its early 2000s CGI artwork hints. The EP whimpers under its origin as a batch of new System of a Down tracks despite Tankian’s efforts to rouse a pulse.
After spending the majority of the 2010s away from rock music, Elasticity should be a good faith sign of Serj’s position in metal. His recent output has been as eclectic as his vocal style. The System of a Down frontman has scored films and video games, collaborated with Mindless Self Indulgence’s Jimmy Urine on an electronic soundtrack to a nonexistent movie, and released albums in both the classical and jazz orbits. Elasticity was originally envisioned as a set of System of A Down tracks. When recordings fell through Serj took his compositions and released them with a separate group of musicians. And his efforts reap what they sewed, a System of a Down-like release without the charm of System of a Down.
“Your Mom” and “Electric Yerevan” channel the alternative metal group’s crunchy power chords and bouncing rhythms. The former’s tongue-in-cheek tone crassly examines the seductive allure of conspiracy theories. There’s even a cute sitar riff. Yet that’s the peak of instrumental excitement on Elasticity. The music fails to match Serj’s off-kilter energy and instead presents bland, arena filler. They are too soupy to resonate as ballads and too flavourless to titillate an ECG, resembling Linkin Park and Evanescence at their worst. The arrangements drop themselves at Tankian’s feet and pray they can leech off of his raw ability. “How Many Times!?” is a smoothie of pedantic strings and pianos while “Rumi” pairs Serj’s best vocal performance with an accompaniment both overdramatic and underachieving.
Thankfully Serj can still Serj. His style is so well-honed by this point in his career that he carries most of the tracks to some form of endorphin release. The singer flexes a different muscle on each track. The sarcastic “Your Mom” beams beside the Olympic floor routine of onomatopoeias and hooks of the title track. On the closing cut “Electric Yerevan” he employs a similar tactic to Toxicity’s “Prison Song,” indulging in a spoken word editorial about peaceful Armenian protests. Despite good intentions it fails to electrify. “Prison Song” illuminated the disgusting reality of the American justice system by casting harsh facts against a tonally bipartisan soliloquy. The numbers spoke to their own horror. Here Tankian fumbles that urgency by instigating a crowd rallying call-and-response of “Hey! Hey! Hey!.” Where he shines is “Rumi.” Tankian imparts goodwill and tenderness towards his son but its’ as sweet as it is raw when driven through his own off-kilter filter.
Tankian’s quirkiness may never crest beyond his earlier work but he can still elevate the disposable to the slightly less mediocre. There’s little in the way of surprises, and even less in the way of evolution on Elasticity. Mostly it’s functional, that function being to remind everyone Serj is still Serj with or without System of a Down.