Chills Without the Thrills
Vancouver producer Jamison (He only goes by this name—whether it is a surname or first name is unclear) has exposed many a literary influence with his chillwave-y “band” (if one can use the term loosely) Teen Daze. Last year’s A Silent Planet EP was inspired by reading C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet during a seven-week stay in the Swiss Alps studying philosophy. This year’s All of Us Together, his first proper full-length, took similar inspiration from the world of books: specifically, according to an interview with Fader, an old tome Jamison came upon at a thrift store called Utopian Visions, which was an encyclopedic volume of different views on what utopia might look like. Well, if you were to judge by the contents of this nine-song album, utopia turns out to be a pretty ho-hum place full of five-and-six-minute jams that barely go anywhere and use some tired clichés of electronic music. Aside from the final track, I don’t think the snail-like bpm even changes up noticeably at any one point during the album – while might make things pleasurable if you’re coming down from an ecstasy high in the club, but a little boring if you’re trying to listen to this in your living room.
While Teen Daze gets lumped into the chillwave scene because it’s a one-man band who essentially was making music in his bedroom at one point, there are points of reference to other popular electronic acts: M83’s Europop influence seeps through on a few tracks (and, possibly, in the choice of band name); the airy vapour trails of dream pop plays a slight role, and the sound now and then tiptoes into the ‘70s disco sounds of Giorgio Moroder. You would think this would be interesting, but the problem with All of Us, Together is that it generally offers the same variation on a sound or two. Also a hindrance is the fact that the record is largely instrumental, with very little in the way in the form of vocals to add as a thematic guide. You have to wonder, considering that Jamison has a few EPs under his belt, if he wasn’t actually ready to jump up into the bigger pond, considering the demands that a full album places on the act of creation.
This is not to say that All of Us, Together doesn’t have its moments here and there. Opener “Treten” is a wispy piece of synthesized pop that is dreamy and reflective but nowhere near flawless. At nearly seven minutes in length, it kind of ambles along and peters out without doing much of anything other than simply inviting the listener to chill out. There are different movements within the piece, but the overall pace is a bit glacial and languid, simply rolling on and on – it could have easily had a few minutes lopped off the runtime. “Late” is a little better as it is half the length of “Treten”, and its opening bleeps and bloops are a little reminiscent of the goofy keyboard sounds of Hot Butter’s 1972 hit “Popcorn”. But that’s about all to recommend. The beat generally continues on in the same vein as “Treten”, just with only a little added jump and pep. “Cold Sand” opens with the sounds of jets unspooling exhaust, which underpins the song, but it sounds just like a trance-y version of Air Supply. At points, you’re almost listening to the aural equivalent of static. And for the next two songs, particularly “For Body and Kenzie”, which is beatless for 97 full seconds, the album practically limps along. About halfway into “For Body and Kenzie”, a series of arpeggio broken chords descend into disco schmaltz, and you begin to suspect that All of Us, Together is suffering from an identity crisis, that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. When follow-up track “The New Balearic” recycles the same staccato ping-y keyboard vamps from the previous song, you really have to wonder. Perhaps this is a stab at consistency; it sounds more like an album that had finally ran out of ideas and simply quit.
But then things take a slight turn for the better, however briefly. “Brooklyn Sunburn”, the song on the album that is generally getting featured treatment on the Web, is enchanting: It’s the very first spot on the disc with vocals, female vocals at that, delightfully cooing in the background. While the riff is a little repetitive, this is the first place where the beat truly comes alive (and is that a cowbell I hear in there, somewhere?), and some of the more shoegazery elements come into play with actual singing buried six feet under in the mix. While not perfect, “Brooklyn Sunburn” is clearly the album’s standout track and the real reason to take any sort of attention that All of Us, Together has to deliver. It’s simply a good pop tune, underneath all of its electronica world-baiting ambition. Alas, the centre cannot hold: “Erbstück” offers “where have I heard this before?” clubby beats that literally go “tiztse, tiztse, tiztse” like someone human beat-boxing. Granted, it’s not horrible, and offers a little more in terms of sonic variation, but you definitely do get a feeling of déjà vu listening to the piece. The track bleeds into “The Future”, which brings back the heavily buried female vocals, sounding like angels as they purr “here we come” over and over; it’s the album’s solitary stab at dream-pop, with its boom-bash beat going off in windshield wiper-like fashion. “Hold” closes the album as more of a new dawn fades piece of organic synth-pop. Here, the beats are non-existent, the mood is definitely relaxing, and, overall, the song feels utterly inconsequential. Is this a vision of utopia or simply an artist that is tired?
For an act that is classified as “chillwave”, Teen Daze offers very little in the way of genuine chills and thrills – at least, not here. There’s not a heck of a lot that is fresh and invigorating, and nothing new in the way of ideas that haven’t been recycled and have appeared elsewhere, and done better. (Washed Out, anyone?) It’s a little unsettling that All of Us, Together feels like inconsequential fluff, considering the rave reviews that Jamieson has generally been getting, but, as noted above, one supposes that the concept of a fully unified album got the better of him, and even got away on him. All of Us, Together is a bit of a panoramic soundtrack for those who like that kind of thing, but the album, taken as a whole, is a little hard to sit through in one go. Generally devoid of memorable melodies, and as stale as airplane air, All of Us, Together lands, with a few minimal exceptions, with a gigantic barely mediocre thud. Perhaps this is just a way to say that Jamieson should spend a little less time with his books, and turn to his record collection to gain a much more profound sense of inspiration in the future.