Telefon Tel Aviv: Immolate Yourself
Bpitch Control

Immolate Yourself naturally assumes an immense gravitas in light of Charles Cooper's untimely passing, and one presumes that the release will be Telefon Tel Aviv's swan song. Alas, it won't be remembered as the group's peak; that honour goes to the group's previous collection of originals, 2004's Map of What is Effortless (a fine set of remixes appeared in 2007). With five years separating the albums, it doesn't surprise that the two sound dramatically different. The new material finds Telefon Tel Aviv partners Joshua Eustis and Cooper creating a heady electronic-electro-New Wave hybrid that's wholly synthetic (guitars are entirely absent and so, noticeably, is electric piano) and features little of the micro-detailing present on the group's previous releases. Instrumentally, the Telefon Tel Aviv sound, now leaner though still multi-tiered, remains as appealing as ever, and naturally, the material sounds incredible. The duo's records have always impressed on purely sonic grounds (Eustis in particular has invested much energy outside of the group in production work) and Immolate Yourself's epic wall-of-sound doesn't disappoint.

So what's not to like? On a relatively minor note, many of the songs feature a crude snare sound that's reminiscent of early-‘80s electronic drumming. Why Eustis and Cooper opted for such a dated sound is curious. What has a far greater impact on the material is the vocalizing. On the new material, Eustis and Cooper handle the vocal duties themselves and, frankly, their singing lacks personality. No matter how many treatments are applied, the lack of character can't be concealed. On Immolate Yourself, vocals are often treated as part of the overall texture (sometimes, as in “M,” so low in the mix they're little more than indecipherable, atmospheric swirls) whereas on Map of What is Effortless the singing is front and center and distinguished by the superb performances of Damon Aaron and L'Altra's Lindsay Anderson.

Immolate Yourself does boast some strong moments. “The Birds,” an epic mass of electro pulsations and murmured vocals, certainly opens the album promisingly, and “Your Mouth” marries the group's trademark funk attack with an elegant synthesizer theme. Though “Helen of Troy” and “You Are the Worst Thing in the World” blend vibrant electro-pop and ‘80s New Wave in a way that invites comparison to Orchestral Maneuvers In The Dark (circa “Enola Gay”), there's no denying the songs' appeal. And believe it or not, the stretched vocal treatments and hiccupping rhythm flow hint that “Stay Away from Being Maybe” could fairly seamlessly fit into the first side of Before and After Science without anyone batting an eye. But Immolate Yourself is a frustrating release too. For every decent cut, such as the exquisite mood piece “Made a Tree On the Wold,” there's something like “Your Every Idol” whose five minutes of tribal drums and groaning electronics feels like so much filler. The album is far from an embarrassment but neither is it an unqualified triumph. Those wanting to experience the most satisfying representation of the group's talents might be better off checking out Map of What is Effortless instead.

March 2009