[12 May 2009]
I hadn’t heard much of Telepathe before a few months ago, when Owen Pallett (of Final Fantasy) raved about them on Twitter – then was outraged when Pitchfork’s review “attributes Telepathe “Dance Mother”‘s successes to Dave Sitek. *Barf*.” I think he got his point across. Sitek, who’s better known as the production genius behind and member of TV on the Radio, is likely to be mentioned in most of the reviews of Telepathe’s debut album Dance Mother, that you care to read. We need to tread carefully here. The relationship between producer and artist is a delicate one, and without our being there for the recording sessions themselves we can’t really make much of an assessment of each’s relative contribution to the final product. On the other hand, putting down a female group’s success down to their male producer has obvious problems.
What we do know is that Telepathe is Melissa Livudais and Busy Ganges, two women from Bushwick, Brooklyn, and that in their short career they have played up that certain Brooklyn-artist crunchy glamour. In keeping with this image, their music itself layers synths and guitars in ways that capture that current Brooklyn art-pop sound. TV on the Radio is certainly in there as a reference-point, but Telepathe also has something of M83’s shoegaze-meets-dance thing going on, too. Though the prominent vocals give them a pop vibe, Telepathe are more patient, and more comfortable with repetition (dance music’s basic tenet). The album, starting from its roots, kicks off with a New Order big-room percussion and hardly looks back.
But separate from these referents and influences, the group is able to create a fairly distinctive sound through apposition of unexpected rhythmic motifs and sparser timbres than are initially expected. The band approaches dance music obliquely. Livaudais and Ganges, often singing together, invest more feeling into their songs than last year’s crop of disinterested female-vocal dance-pop groups. Occasional experiments in talk-singing aside, their intoxicated delivery has a flat appeal. On “Lights Go Down”, a dubstep-inspired track, Livaudais (or Ganges) enunciates the ‘t’ on refrain “the hunt, the winners” and while I’m still not sure what the point of the phrase is, it’s a memorable one.
The most successful songs on Dance Mother tame and shape this fragmenting impulse towards true pop. “Chrome’s on It”, the first single, juxtaposes a disorienting arpeggiated verse with the deliciously nonsensical machine-gun stutter refrain “I can feel the real bang-bang.” If you haven’t already heard it, you should. “Can’t Stand It”, the album’s most fully realised song, plays like a Grizzly Bear interpretation of some lost Esau Mwamwaya anthem, patiently building to a warm climax.
Say what you will about Telepathe’s technical prowess, their songs are pretty uniformly enjoyable. And whether it’s due to the band, or the producer, or (probably) by the powers of both combined, the material on Dance Mother is slickly constructed, too. Telepathe have made a strong opening statement in what will hopefully be a fruitful ongoing collaboration with one of indie music’s most accomplished producers.