Tuesday, June 30, 2009

June 30: Telefon Tel Aviv, "Map Of What Is Effortless"

Artist: Telefon Tel Aviv
Album: Map Of What Is Effortless
Year: 2004
Label: Hefty!

Much like European artists struggle with creating quality hip hop music, so is the case with U.S. based artists and the genre of electronica. While there are, of course, a number of exceptions in each case, an overwhelming majority of the time, the statement remains true. One of the biggest surprises in in the ambient/down tempo scene in the last decade came from a pair of high school friends from Louisiana who called themselves Telefon Tel Aviv. Creating breathtaking ambient soundscapes, and sprinkling them with brilliant beats and an overall dark mood, the music they create is some of the finest in the genres history. Finding the way to make a consistent, complete, and outstanding down beat record, without presenting the same formula on every track, the duo are truly one of the best pairings that the genre has ever seen. Releasing just three albums before the sudden death of one of the group members, the duo are nothing short of phenomenal on their sophomore album, 2004's Map Of What Is Effortless.

The albums' title is wonderfully ironic, as the record itself is perfect in every sense of the word, from beginning to end. The albums' cover offers a brilliant visual description of the sound within, as many of the tracks are, to be cliché, smooth and sweet, and they almost drip into your ears, relaxing you. Crisp production (done by the duo), multi-layered, rich musical textures, and varied enough songs to keep things from being anything near mundane, Map Of What Is Effortless is truly a blissful musical experience. This is where the "effortless" part of the title rings true. To fully appreciate and enjoy Telefon Tel Aviv's amazing musical masterpiece, one needs nothing more than the album and an open mind, the duo take care of the rest. The album almost drifts by, leaving gorgeous textures and images in its wake. While many albums that get this deep into ambient grooves end up lulling listeners to sleep, Telefon Tel Aviv keeps the mind active with brilliant compositions, yet the album is never startling or loud. Even when the music gets a bit more uptempo, like on the somewhat sarcastic, "My Week Beats Your Year," the mellow mood behind the record remains unscathed, and the change somehow works perfectly. One simply cannot overstate how universally appealing Map Of What Is Effortless truly is; even for those who have no exposure to the genre, the album is intoxicating and addictive from the very first listening.

Using a pair of computers and a variety of different software, along with a pair of amazing vocalists, Telefon Tel Aviv simply make music like nothing else on the planet. All of Map Of What Is Effortless is absolutely stunning in the musical sense, as the duo created patterns and melodies that truly eclipsed anything else that was being done anywhere in music at the time. Telefon Tel Aviv is, in fact, two guys who go by the names Charles Cooper and Joshua Eustis. Neither of them had any previous work to their credit, so the fact that they are were able to create such fantastic music "out of the gate" is a testament to their talent. The soundscapes they create truly are astounding, from the deep, whispering "What Is Was Will Never Again" to the beautifully melancholy "I Lied," the pair finds endless creative spins on the foundations of the style. Relying mostly on simple drum loops and synthesizers, it is often the additional instrumentation that sets the album aside from its peers. Writing arrangements for everything from flutes and harps to a large string section or simple finger snapping, Telefon Tel Aviv's understanding and ability to utilize such a wide range of instruments takes their music into the stratosphere. Cooper and Eustis have an amazing talent for understanding just the right amount of computer blips and other sound effects to give each song a spectacular sound, yet the additional sounds are never done to excess. While the songs on Map Of What Is Effortless are anything but sparse, they are simultaneously never overpowering, creating a truly euphoric musical experience.

Telefon Tel Aviv presents a pair of different vocalists throughout the songs on Map Of What Is Effortless. While each as their own sound and style, each of the vocalists blend perfectly with the music, and the album has an amazing sense of cohesion. Guitar player, singer, and songwriter, Damon Aaron, has worked with everyone from Breakestra to I-Wolf, and he takes co-writing credit on each song on which he is featured on Map Of What Is Effortless. To say the least, his performance is nothing short of breathtaking on "I Lied," and his smooth, somewhat dejected tone on each song that he sings helps to perfect the overall mood of the record. While many may not realize it, the female vocals are performed by someone who was plenty famous before her work with Telefon Tel Aviv. At just seventeen years old, Lindsay Anderson played trumpet for the recording of 1982's Chariots Of Fire and also performed with the 1980's pop group, Wham! Over the past decade, she has been featured with down tempo artists like L'Altra and Slicker as well as on the other albums from Telefon Tel Aviv. The vocals she lends to Map Of What Is Effortless are as dulcet and elegant as any others recorded in the genre, and they also play a wonderful contrast to the vocals of Aaron. Much in the same manner that the pairing of Cooper and Eustis make the music perfect, so does the vocal duo of Aaron and Anderson, making Map Of What Is Effortless a superb record in every aspect.

Within any genre of electronic music, it is exceptionally hard to find a "complete" album as most artists simply cannot make an albums' worth of diverse, yet similar songs. An overwhelming majority of the time, there are either "throw away" tracks, or songs that are so divergent from the overall mood, that they end up ruining the album. More to the point, electronic music of worth rarely comes out of the United States. Bucking both of these trends, Louisiana based duo, Telefon Tel Aviv, create some of the most breathtaking and complete musical experiences in the history of the down tempo/ambient genre with the three albums they have released. Presenting elegant beats, with subdued, yet rich musical textures, their albums are the true definition of the word "bliss." Adding in vocals from Damon Aaron and Lindsay Anderson gives the songs a fantastic diversity, and the combination makes Map Of What Is Effortless one of the true great albums of the genre. The amount of talent found within group members Charles Cooper and Joshua Eustis is undeniable, and it makes the sudden death of Cooper in January of 2009 even more tragic. Each of the groups' three albums are well worth owning, but their 2004 release, Map Of What Is Effortless is their dour dé force, and easily one of the most spactecular albums in the history of the genre.

Standout tracks: "I Lied," "My Week Beats Your Year," and "Map Of What Is Effortless."

No comments: