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Ferree may be clumsy with his storytelling, but it’s tough to find any kind of shape or form in Telepathe’s billowing atmospheres. The debut album from Brooklyn electro duo Telepathe almost entirely ignores nuance in its relentless pursuit of cool.
But Dance Mother isn’t cool in the way that Lil Wayne, iPhones, or Converse All-Stars are. The disc is more like a cup of coffee that’s been left on a desk for three days—cool only in that it is devoid of heat.
With its girl-group vocals, crunk samples, and laptop beats, the band’s early EPs suggested a sort of Bananarama/Lil’ Jon hybrid that should have boiled on the dance floor, but most of Dance Mother just chills.
It may not be entirely the group’s fault, though. TV on the Radio’s David Sitek produced the album, and his strategy seems to be that if a style worked for his band, it will somehow work for this one. He dials up the vintage synths, hires the horn section from Antibalas, and drowns everything in reverb—just as he’s done for every artist he’s ever worked with, from Celebration to ScarJo.
The production overwhelms Telepathe, leaving songs like “In Your Line” and “Can’t Stand It” sounding a little like Dear Science B-sides.
There’s a chance Melissa Livaudais and Busy Gangnes just sat by passively as Sitek’s doused their fire. During a show last year at the Black Cat, both women seemed positively bored to death by their own songs. Their vocal performances on Dance Mother display a similarly lackadaisical attitude—once uttered, lines hang in the air like damp sheets on a clothesline or just get blotted out entirely by the psychedelic wall of sound. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t any decent songs on Dance Mother—many of the songs are good, or at least have good elements.
Telepathe is adept at blending ideas from hip-hop mixtapes into Cocteau Twins-style atmospherics. It works well on “So Fine,” with its stumbling chorus hook, and even better for “Trilogy: Breath of Life, Crimes and Killings, Threads and Knives” which effortlessly shifts from haunting ambience to blaring crunk keyboards and back in its six-plus minutes. But the rest of the album is sort of forgettable. Telepathe borrowed astutely from modern hip-hop, but they probably should have borrowed more—more of the bass, more of the personality, more of the attitude. Apparently they grabbed only the 808s and the weed. Does that make them cool, or just cold?