Sunday, March 20, 2011

TEEBS: Ardour

Teebs - Ardour
The usual criticism thrown at everything put out by Brainfeeder, the California-based label headed by Flying Lotus, is "It sounds just like Flying Lotus." Copying Flying Lotus is so hip, even Radiohead is doing it these days, but Teebs is taking a few cautious steps in his own direction. Listen to Flying Lotus' Los Angeles. Did you feel that basement claustrophobia? Hit your head on that rusty pipe? Were you astral-travelling in the dark? Teebs, in contrast, is all daylight, open windows and comfy armchairs.

Ardour sounds like music designed to accompany reading, which is the best and worst thing about it. I love records that wrap around you like a blanket, as this one certainly does, but I also expect that music will be able to function also as the object of a close, engaged listen. And that's where Teebs could stand to improve.

These tracks are remarkably, almost admirably static. It takes a lot of confidence to allow your music to remain this austere, and the absence of sudden shifts or contrasting dynamics focuses the listener’s attention on the compelling textures created by Teebs’ laptop-mangled samples. I like, for example, the juxtaposition of crystal-clear samples with lo-fi, musty counterparts (see "While You Dooo" for reference).

This close attention also exposes the music's flaws, however, so a music-blogger's gotta nitpick. For every two or three details that work, there's one that doesn't. Example: "Arthur's Birds" is too long and marred by amateurish use of dynamic over-compression that makes the shimmering chords dip with every kickdrum hit, pumping obnoxiously like someone fiddling with the volume constantly when you're trying to listen to something pretty. The same thing Happens on "Felt Tip."

For the most part, these tracks are too short and disconnected for the album to succeed as ambient headphones music, but too swaying and quiet to really hold my attention. It’s an awkward middle ground. Nearly every track has something that will make you say “Oh, that’s cool” right before your mind drifts back to grocery shopping or the weather or other music. Not a good sign.

The best stuff is fantastic, like the romantic soar of "My Whole Life" or the gentlebreezefeel of the appropriately titled "Wind Loop." Honestly, I love the basic approach Teebs takes throughout, even if this isn't as fully-realized as I would hope. I'm eager to see where he goes from here. The nice thing about labels like Brainfeeder is their willingness to let artists develop rather than dropping them right away if the debut isn’t a smash-hit. Teebs is giving us something to look forward to.

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