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March 30, 2009

For our review section this week, I’ll be looking at the brand new Bat for Lashes album Two Suns, and Telefon Tel Aviv’s Immolate Yourself.

Bat for LashesTwo Suns (Parlophone/Astralwerks, 2009)

This second album from Natasha Khan and collaborators displays further development of the Bat for Lashes project. One almost has to refer to the group in that way, as what they’re doing is of such a unique aesthetic and comprehensive vision that it goes a bit beyond just a band, as such. That vision is, of course, centred around Khan’s personality and multi-disciplined artistic background at the core, but mention must be made of her band giving shape to the project as well. Bat for Lashes has a definite identity, both musically and aesthetically, and that identity is preserved on this release (from 2006’s debut Fur and Gold), but it is given new expression and taken to new places. This record relies less on the medieval-sounding instruments, sparse arrangements, and children’s book mysticism aesthetic that gave Fur and Gold its unique character and features a fuller sound, with more synth and drum machine grooves, as well as overarching conceptual themes of loss and duality, even going so far as to introduce another personality that appears throughout the album, Pearl, as a manifestation of the singer’s duality.

The production ventures into new territory as well, with all kinds of shimmery vocal delays going on and electronic flourishes added in. As on the first single, “Daniel,” for instance, a treatment of the album’s themes through a song based on The Karate Kid (showing that the playfulness of the first album is still in place). Fans of the first record should have no reason to be disappointed, as there’s enough of what was great in the earlier stuff in this record as well, it’s just taken up a couple of steps and done with some new sounds and ideas. The result is another collection of good songs. Two Suns showcases Khan’s talents as a songwriter and performer, and adds another facet to her project, proving her further as one of the most enchanting, adventurous pop artists on the scene. Of course, such adventuring often results in real division of opinion when it comes to her work, but, however this record is to be received, she’s trying for something with it.

***

Telefon Tel AvivImmolate Yourself (Bpitch Control, 2009)

From the opening notes to the closing ones, this record envelops you in lush synth pop. It is the third Telefon Tel Aviv full-length, and is preceded by 2001’s Fahrenheit Fair Enough and 2004’s Map of What is Effortless (along with some remixes and collaborations along the way as well). It captures a progression in the group’s sound that led to a much more evocative record than the earlier releases. Leaving behind the R&B-inflected sounds and the glitchier electronic textures of the first two albums, Immolate Yourself delves into pure synth pop, and, through the usage of primarily analog components, attains a noteworthy combination of old and new. Bringing to mind tones of early Depeche Mode and OMD, as well as hints of Boards of Canada-type contemporary textures and programming, this record goes back and forth between catchy, steady tracks and some more mood-based, slower tracks. It’s pretty much all melody, though, and it quickly draws you in. The record is less processed than their other releases, and it’s full of warm analog synth pads and slight pitch shifts and warbles throughout. Plus, the vocals are given a blurrier, more delay-treated sound than on their previous recordings, which really adds to the feeling of it all. A good mix of danceable and headphonable. It’s a moody record, and some of the most convincing synth pop in a while. A portion of the album artwork, a handwritten note about the record and how it came to sound the way it does, can be read at the group’s myspace.

It has to be mentioned, of course, as it will be one of the first bits of information you’ll encounter when looking into this group, that Charles Cooper, one of the two musicians that comprised Telefon Tel Aviv, died shortly before this record’s release. The news of his death coincided with an increasing number of reviews stating that this record was their finest work yet. Since then, of course, it has been impossible to review or discuss the record without the unfortunate circumstance of a band member’s death weighing on the words. The remaining member, Joshua Eustis, announced recently, however, after a period of uncertainty, that he is planning to continue, along with Fredo Nogueira, a friend and sometime-collaborator of the group, so there may be more to come from this outfit yet. This record will remain, however, a final statement for the original duo, having worked together for ten years before getting it all right on this one.

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