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February 17, 2009 |

By TK Burton | Music | February 17, 2009 |

If you’ve never heard of the brilliant electronic duo Telefon Tel Aviv, whose career came to an abrupt halt last month when the outfit’s down-tempo wizard Charlie Cooper prematurely passed away at the age of 31, please do not dismiss this as another Pajiba Music entry that doesn’t apply to you. You’ve already clicked into here, so the least you can do is click play on any of the songs below (your boss won’t care, trust me) and get immersed in the undervalued beauty of one of the 00s’ most important acts in electronic music. If you don’t like it, no hard feelings. But the Chicago (by way of New Orleans) two-piece’s blissful, soulful, and utterly uncategorizable tunes can melt even the iciest of hearts, so I implore you: give it a shot. The man’s dead for chrissakes; it’s the least you can do.

fahrenheit.jpgFahrenheit Fair Enough [Hefty; 2001]: There once was an idiot who coined the term “IDM”, or “Intelligent Dance Music” to describe electronic music that was less about booty shaking and more about heart and/or brain grooving. Some embraced it, some hated it, and most people didn’t care. Hopefully you can tell which faction I fall into. But for some reason, critics and fans can’t talk about Telefon Tel Aviv’s breakthrough debut record without using the acronym. While synthetic drums sputter and Rhodes piano loops cluster together to create simultaneously warm and chilly atmospheres, it’s not so much a question of intelligence as it is one of wordless wonder. It feels good, it’s unlike most things you’ll hear in the electronic field, and it’s positively spellbinding whether you’re listening on headphones in the middle of a rainstorm by your lonesome or sitting on a couch in a crowded party and need the right beat in the background to work up the courage to make a move on that guy/girl next to you. The opening title track is a curvaceous and swirly splendor of melody that sucks you in, only to be continually wowed by songs with equally genius titles like “When It Happens It Moves All By Itself” and “Life Is About Taking Things In And Putting Things Out”. The album is an instrumental introduction to a band that was just settling into its own skin, sure to take their aesthetic in directions we would have never thought possible.

mapofwhat.jpgMap Of What Is Effortless [Hefty; 2004]: And they did just that with their follow-up effort three years later. The guitars don’t slink in front anymore, they pulse and swell like synthesizers buried underneath heavenly beats. The mood is no longer dreamy and ethereal, but bruised and aching. And yet, while the instrumentation got denser, the addition of vocals let the album breathe with ease, still emanating an air of mysterious calmness. Most good bands who begin instrumental and add vocals later do so because they either (wrongly) think their sound was lacking or because they want to appeal to a larger base, but I really think TTA was the one exception to this, adding vocals because they had something to say, and because they had friends who knew how to do it - obviously conceding that neither Cooper nor Eustis had the ability. So on board came the split duties of Damon Aaron, whose sexy R&B meekness is unexpected but fits perfectly on tracks like “Nothing Is Worth Losing That” and “I Lied”, and Lindsay Anderson (who also does fine work in L’Altra), whose dark-yet-angelic voice is the perfect complement to TTA’s broken-down beats and swelling orchestration, such as on the acoustic-tinged ballad “Bubble And Spike”. One of her tracks, probably the one unlike all other TTA songs, got the band their biggest hit (“My Week Beats Your Year”) because it strays from the heart-on-your-sleeve confessionalism of the band’s other tracks, so much so that its minimalist dancefloor punching comes across as almost deadpan. It proves that TTA is very capable of other, possibly more monetarily rewarding, styles of music, but more often than not, that’s just not what they’re into. They’d rather go with brooding and contemplative, which is fine by me.

remixes.jpgRemixes Compiled [Hefty; 2007]: So obviously, the anticipation factor after two brilliant albums left a remixes compilation three years later a perceived letdown. But having not really the know-how or dedication to follow stray remixes over the years, getting them all on one disc was certainly not the half-assed “hey we’re still around, we swear” offering I thought it was going to be. How a duo of laptoppers are able to twist around and shake up such a varied assortment of artists and still come back with a collection that sounds like a fluid and consistent album that sounds like themselves is beyond me, but TTA did it. Eustis and Cooper are able to cool down and stretch out the Nine Inch Nails track “Even Deeper”, delicately muss up the Brazilian chanteuse Bebel Gilberto’s “All Around”, and glacier-fy the indie quietcore outfit (and personal favorite) American Analog Set’s “The Green Green Grass”. And that’s only in the album’s first half! Sure, there’s some of the expected too, including fellow mood-making electronica master Apparat, the cinematic introspection of Olver Nelson, and the blip-bleep wintry hip-hop of Ammoncontact, all of which combine to basically create a third Telefon Tel Aviv record, only with a varied and immaculately chosen selection of guest singers. And to cap it off with their sprawling rendition of labelmate Slicker’s “Knock Me Down Girl” was quite possibly the smartest move any compilation compiler’s ever made. To put things in perspective: my wall at home is lined with CDs and it is the only remix album I’ve purchased. It’s that essential.

immolate.jpgImmolate Yourself [Bpitch Control, 2009]: Cooper died just days before this, their third and final full-length of original material, was released. Now, I’ve only spent a couple weeks with the record, so I feel kinda awkward about reflecting on it in the pantheon of TTA releases, but I’m predicting it will go down in my personal history as the band’s best effort. It’s really hard to separate the music from the tragedy of Cooper’s death (I’d say impossible), but if I were to speculate in such a fashion, I’d say that even if fans weren’t reeling from his passing, this album would be a gentle revolution of progression for the band. Everything that they had done so beautifully and modestly before has come full circle here: the dance beats oscillate between blistering and euphoric, pleasing fans of both Fahrenheit and Map, and the vocals aren’t as crisp and in-your-face this time around for those that felt their last outing was too immaculate sounding (cough cough Pitchfork). How that’s possible, I’m not sure, but it’s clear that when Eustis and Cooper got in he studio to create this culminating masterpiece (ooh it feels weird using that word so quickly, but I can’t help myself), they were not just doing what felt right. They had atmospheres in mind that would be both climactic and soothing, reserved and gushing. “I Made A Tree On The Wold” is almost ghostly in its execution, but it also crescendos with the utmost liveliness. “Stay Away From Being Maybe” writhes and pulses while the intensity of “The Birds” comes from its tripped-out sequencer hypnotics. It’s the best example of a band finding its voice not just for genre enthusiasts like myself, but for everyone, both literally and figuratively, as Cooper and Eustis prove that with the right about processing, their actual voices really do fit the music they play. It’s appropriately smothered in the mess of electronics, but never sounds ill-balanced. This is the album fans have been waiting for and hopefully it’s something that as 2009 runs its course, others will find their way to the duo as well.

One of the few positives to losing an artist to the void of the great beyond is the proof of their life that they leave behind. So obviously I highly recommend checking out the above records - they’re all remarkably consistent and solid listens. Yes, it sucks that I’m calling your attention to TTA after you can no longer go see them play live, or now that you can no longer anticipate their next release. It’s unfair. Here’s the rub though: when I found out Heath Ledger passed, or even when I watched Loder’s ugly mug telling me Cobain was gone when I was 11, I witnessed other people caring. A fuckload of people. And yet, I only know two other people who gave a shit about the death of Charlie Cooper, whose works have probably affected me more than both of the aforementioned celebrities combined (and I cried like a baby at the end of Brokeback Mountain…AND Unplugged in New York was the first guitar record I ever owned).

So if there are any other TTA fans out there that want to mourn, speak up. Or if you dug any of the tracks above, let me know and offer others reason to give them a listen. We’ve lost a great one way too soon, but at least we can spread the word about the mind-shattering (albeit small) collection of albums he and his bandmate Joshua Eustis left behind. RIP Charlie Cooper.

Chris Polley teaches high school English, often with his hair disheveled and a glint of crazy in his eye, in the Midwest’s greatest city, Minneapolis. He rambles on and conducts discourse with friends and strangers about the horrific beast that is pop culture over at The Blogulator.

Pajiba Music

At The Edge Of The World You Will Still Float

RIP Charlie Cooper / Chris Polley

Music | February 17, 2009 |

TK Burton is the Editorial Director. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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