Telefon Tel Aviv - "Helen of Troy" (Immolate Yourself)
This is a sad place for the story to end. Charlie Cooper, half of the New Orleans-via-Chicago duo Telefon Tel Aviv, died at age 31 in late January, less than two weeks before the domestic release of the group’s most gratifying record yet. Where their first two studio albums were polished but shadowy and a little bit obstinate, Immolate Yourself displays a band making peace with the idea of the pop song, learning to build grand, ambitious structures without neglecting the dark nuances hidden in every corner. It’s a confident outing from an outfit with all the right reasons to be confident, a unified and often arresting record with few qualms about what it’s supposed to be.
Highlights: opener “The Birds,” a flawless dance track with a lovely, shapeshifting one-sentence lyric; “Helen of Troy,” a darkly enticing and shockingly efficient ballad that makes the Kraftwerk thing feel exciting again; anguished neo-soul jam “You Are the Worst Thing in the World,” complete with rumbling prelude (“Your Every Idol”) of nearly identical length. These are bangers first, thinkpieces second, but every moment therein is accounted for – vocal texture, phantom percussion, ominous ambience. Cooper and partner Joshua Eustis marry jagged intricacy and big simplistic appeal with far greater ease than before.
The rest of the record is made up of the same kind of glitchy parano-IDM bristle that lurked throughout TTA’s debut, Fahrenheit Fair Enough, and its follow-up, Map of What is Effortless: slithery rhythmic ornamentation, obsessive melodic layering, measured words buried under sonic shear. The elements coalesce more sharply here, though, without the nu-jazz cocoon that used to overlay the cold hard details. Immolate gives off a Depeche Mode-style gloom, and pretty unabashedly at that, such that even the weaker individual tracks feel better grounded in a distinct frame of mind.
What Immolate Yourself provides now is a chance to see the degree to which Telefon Tel Aviv were on to something, coming into their own in a satisfying way. Its slow-building title track, perfectly at home at the end of the album, still sounds a little rough at the edges, a little hesitant, as though waiting for a decisive moment in its evolution. That was how this band slowly made good on their promise, album to album – tightening their chops, shedding their influence anxiety, being surprising in surprising ways. That built-in room for growth, terminally stunted, makes both the dizzying highs and the promising lows of this album all the more lamentable.