Let's put this out on the table right off the bat: Local singer/songwriter Vienna Teng sounds like everyone else. Warm Strangers, her second album, opens with the rolling, offbeat accents of vintage Tori Amos piano on the pensive “Feather Moon.” The easy, sunny-day acoustic guitar of an Emily Saliers-penned Indigo Girls tune on “Mission Street” gives the Mission a Starbucks-like hue. The gothic intensity of “My Medea,” with its esoteric English horn and prepared piano, is reminiscent of Kate Bush — or perhaps Evanescence minus the goth rock (which is pretty much the same thing as Kate Bush). The chunky, upbeat chords and everyday-life lyricism of “Shasta (Carrie's Song)” bring to mind Carole King — or perhaps Vanessa Carlton had she been inundated with Brill Building pop in the womb (which is pretty much the same thing as Carole King).
A couple of exceptions break up this quintessential college girl's soundtrack. 1) A few classical references (a bit of Pachelbel on “Anna Rose”; a lovely, thinly veiled hint of Debussy on “Feather Moon”) and a hidden track that's something like Sarah Brightman singing a Chinese folk song with Lion King-era Elton John on keys, defy the limitations of Teng's dorm-rat tastes. 2) “Passage,” despite a rather clunky lyrical theme (“I died in a car crash two days ago”) and the always-precarious decision to do an a cappella track, manages to crawl under one's skin and diffuse a breathtaking, utter loneliness in viruslike fashion (that is, if viruses were pretty, haunting young slips of things).
But there's only so much comparing and contrasting one can do before arriving at a big, fat “So what?” Warm Strangers is essentially a mix tape for Teng's girlfriends. It's not anything boldly new. It is, however, as simple and familiar as an afternoon on the quad, with a few surprises thrown in for good measure — just like a good, friendly mix tape should be.