Monday, February 23, 2009

Immolate Yourself - Telefon Tel Aviv

Immolate Yourself

Telefon Tel Aviv
Bpitch Records.

SCQ Rating: 78%

Anyone who has seen No Country For Old Men must remember its closing scene where Tommy Lee Jones reflects on a dream he had the previous night before an unexpected cut ushers in the final credits. Compared to the preceding story’s intensity, this retelling of a dream seems like a lull, a moment for viewers to lean back in their seats and collect themselves. It isn’t until the credits roll that Jones’ dream takes on the importance of a Shakespearean soliloquy and as viewers we scramble back over those dream details, hoping to uncover some closure that resonates beyond its linear tale of age and greed. Like that abrupt and anticlimactic finale, Immolate Yourself takes some time to both digest and judge.

For one thing, my initial listens impressed upon me a slick, electronic-pop record; its beat-programming comparable to the Junior Boys (especially on ‘Stay Away From Being Maybe’) and rich production reminiscent of M83. Early listens also deemed the album too glossy and hell-bent on tweaking EQ instead of writing songs. Yet I continued listening to it on a near-daily basis as if each song was crawling closer to relating some grand understanding or purpose. A song like ‘Your Every Idol’ seemed pointless, allowing an unwavering tribal beat and fluttering synths to slowly increase in volume and then end. No better was ‘Mostly Translucent’, with its barely audible vocals and, once again, fluttering synths building toward no release, no satisfactory end. Beyond a few tracks, I decided Immolate Yourself was overfed on production ideas to compensate for boring songwriting. I was wrong… this isn’t bloated, it’s empty. There’s a tremendous difference.

Those aforementioned tracks of transience remain the best examples of Immolate Yourself’s barrenness but they’re sewn thickly to a song-cycle of emotional hollows. The sense of dread here is palpable, from the eerie discomfort of ‘Your Mouth’ to the awkward vocal hooks of ‘You Are the Worst Thing in the World’. Even the record’s most extroverted track, ‘Helen of Troy’, fantasizes about veering off a bridge with one’s love interest in tow. Now in case these song titles didn’t already blow your break-up whistle, I’ll tell it plain: Immolate Yourself details an unnerving anxiety toward relationships over its 46 minutes. My long-awaited grand understanding is that Joshua Eustis and Charles Cooper present this tension by malnourishing their songs of emotion; the beats are concave, the vocals detached in an approach similar (yet with drastically varied results) to Joy Division.

Such a self-destructive tactic of immolating their music (as well as some grave lyrical themes) make the apparent suicide of Charles Cooper – two days after Immolate Yourself’s release – a tragic yet comprehensive chapter to this album’s origin. News of his death was shocking and comes on the heels of the duo’s best work, yet I cannot deny that Cooper’s death changes the way I hear Immolate Yourself. I’m accustomed to hearing musicians mope about love or despair… that’s par for the course. When that particular artist dies in mysterious circumstances like Cooper did on January 22nd, it provokes fans to listen ever-closer to the man’s last words no differently than how Tommy Lee Jones’ retelling of a dream can move from a character study into a microcosm of the film’s message itself. There is no shortage of people who complain that artists who die young are among the most celebrated, that suicide is a shortcut to eternal notoriety. It’s largely true… but what they fail to acknowledge is that suicide is authenticity. Ian proved it, Elliott proved it. Immolate Yourself, in its darkest, most brooding moments, has a primal authenticity that is both moving and haunting.

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