In the 2000’s, Telefon Tel Aviv blessed the world with three influential albums – Fahrenheit Fair Enough, Map Of What Is Effortless, and Immolate Yourself. Now, after a decade away, and after significant change, Telefon Tel Aviv return with the striking Dreams Are Not Enough (September 27, Ghostly International). When founding member Charlie Cooper passed away in 2009, work on the project ceased. At the time, the shutdown was thought to be permanent.
In the years since, Cooper’s co-founder Josh Eustis moved on to other things, producing, performing with, mixing, and mastering a number of artists, from Nine Inch Nails and Apparat to Belong, Vatican Shadow, and Tropic Of Cancer. Eustis went on to focus on his solo and collaborative work, them being Sons Of Magdalene and Second Woman. But Telefon Tel Aviv never left his heart, and after a long season of reflection, Eustis decided to move on with the project. This fourth full-length retains much of the same old spirit.
The juddering opener, ‘I dream of it often’, with its shutter-slants of digital sunlight, is immediately stunning, akin to a cold, refreshing splash of water. Vividly innovative and modernized, its music is a dense piece of software, magnificent and monolithic. Tight, sharp rhythms snake around in the mix, constricting and releasing in pulsing waves, making for refreshingly energetic and propulsive music, and it isn’t without a thorny slice of aggression, either. It can growl with an unrestrained fury, but it pushes for progress. Forward momentum is on its mind, in its system, and on its agenda. It also deals with aspects of the inevitable, trying to grasp the realities of loss, change, and ageing. Slinky beats contradict the roaming harmonies: they sound all the more open and spacious thanks to their tight formations and batteries. Interspersed vocals are loaded with reverb, adding to the dream-vibes and pushing the music into the wide-open space of a digital cloud.
The dream-vibe goes hand-in-hand with the title and the track titles. The music specifically relates to a recurring dream. Haunting Eustis since childhood, this dream dates back to when he was eight and on vacation with his family on the remote Alabama coastline. In the dream, Eustis swims alone through waves, past the sandbar to where the ocean floor abruptly drops away into a ‘gradient of infinite darkness…he peers into the depths and sees himself down at the bottom, mouth open, eyes blank, standing motionless like a corpse’; still as stone in a watery fane.
The dream is like an underwater, murky shrine that can’t quite shake off its tendrils of fear. Shudders produce raised bumps along its frequencies and along the flesh, revealing fault-lines in both the subconscious mind and in a changing world. Phantoms of sadness run their skeletal fingers along the dregs of its sea-bed, with undercurrents of want and an anger at their taking buried at the bottom of the music. Fragments of night-pop collude with sour and acidic rhythms until all that’s left is an electronic world on the threshold of disintegration. There isn’t much in the way of security here. Nothing holds. Like a black hole, nothing is stable; things wobble and teeter on the brink, but that also adds to the record’s freneticism and excitement. That decade of silence was needed, but it still feels like Josh is making up for lost time. There’s a huge amount of energy and release, of needing to say something or to purge something, right here, right now.
Distortion breaks things up. Levels are in the red, peaking and overflowing. The motherboard is getting older, the software is crashing.
Not seeing. Not breathing.
One can see the disintegration, the gradual wrinkling of the skin. It’s the way of all things, including music, and the napalm bomb of ‘not breathing’ speaks of destruction, exploding again and again.
Dreams Are Not Enough has a vacancy in its heart, one that can never be completely filled. What needs to be said is said, and there aren’t any fillers in the album. This also helps to convey the music as a solitary work when in the past it was more of a team effort, and the lone voice does sound bare and sometimes isolated. If it were not for the surrounding melodies, it would be alone. A voice has departed, but one voice remains. And so the music moves on.