Telefon Tel Aviv
3.5 Out of 5 Stars
Telefon Tel Aviv’s work has always been cinematic. The group’s previous albums sound as if they were the soundtracks to some visually stunning art film — the scenes and overall plot play out in your head and are constantly informed by the dense electronic soundscapes coming from the headphones. In this respect, TTV’s releases have been perfect for pure mental transport, sweeping mind from body and giving it wings. This, however, made casual listening difficult and may have turned off more than a few wary listeners unwilling to part with their brains.
With Immolate Yourself, the New Orleans duo (Charles Cooper and Joshua Eustis) has focused less on crafting complex sonic backdrops and more on building songs that stand by themselves. These songs that actually differentiate between verse and chorus (in their loosest definitions) and — here’s the kicker — they distinguish themselves markedly from each other.
Where, in the past, tracks blended into each other and fed off their fellows to create one encompassing mood, the songs here establish individual personalities. Opener “The Birds” recalls the old Telefon: ethereal swells float by innocently until a pulsing bass drum propels the song into an explosion of ambient bliss. Like before, the beauty is in the subtleties — the endlessly complex beat tics, the finely chopped-and-pasted vocals and all the little undefined noises that come together beautifully to shake up the senses.
But the pair doesn’t ride that train for long. “The Birds” evaporates into the shrapnel beat of “Your Mouth,” a track dominated by a razor-sharp organ synthesizer and vaguely robotic vocals. Unlike “The Birds,” it’s hardly subtle, and it’s the first inclination that TTV is really mixing it up this time around. “Your Mouth” is just one of the songs on Immolate Yourself that focuses heavily on vocals, which is a relatively groundbreaking move for the group.
“Helen of Troy,” probably TTV’s biggest leap of faith, wouldn’t sound out of place on an ’80s New Wave mix. Its straightforward danceability is almost as surprising as the “oooh-ahh” hook in the chorus. Still, it’s a revitalizing shock for the group and proves that, in addition to it’s mastery of atmosphere, the duo has a solid grasp on pop structures.
Even though Immolate Yourself demonstrates TTV’s ability to reshape its sound from track to track, the collective sum of the duo’s skills still pales in comparison to other well-established electronica acts like Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada. The transition from the trancey and emotional “Made a Tree on the Wold” to the disjointed “Your Every Idol” is rather bumpy and unfulfilling. It’s a reminder that TTV hasn’t finished rounding off its sound just yet.
Through the sparkling interplay between lead and rhythm guitar on “You Are the Worst Thing in the World” and the soaring optimism of album finale “Immolate Yourself,” it’s easy to hear Telefon Tel Aviv sharpening its tools for the future. Immolate Yourself is the sound of the first stages of a metamorphosis — perhaps the cocoon-building phase — providing a foundation for greater changes to come. But far from being simply a stepping stone to something bigger, the album stands remarkably tall on its own. It’s an album that delights in the present and anticipates a very promising future.