8AM, the third album by electronic duo Teengirl Fantasy, meditates on the diminishing remnants of a night out. The band describes it as “music that replicates that headspace when you’ve seen the sun come up, but sleep is still way off”. Traces of dance music crop up regularly, but Logan Takahashi and Nick Weiss generally withhold direct doses of such outright pleasure. The album studiously crosses bass-heavy hip-hop beats with downtempo synths and occasional electronic experimentations. For all the band’s talk of hedonism, 8AM can come across as strict and self-serious more often than fun. More importantly, it lacks a certain stylistic depth, touching on a number of cornerstones of electronic music without fully developing or committing to them. The album plays like a survey of electronica distilled to its median, ultimately evincing few remarkable or unique characteristics.
Teengirl Fantasy’s work is least likable when they posture themselves as hard-edged experimenters. The brief, stuttering “We Out” has all of the gracelessness of its syntactically awkward title, its squeamish, nasally synths providing the barest skeleton of a piece that never quite materializes. “Where I Went”, another short track, models itself after the intangible electronica of Arca’s Xen, but neglects the minute details that made that work come alive. “It Was Already Light Out” is more of a dubstep tribute, with wispy vocal snatches darting in and out of grittier midtempo beats. This latter track, if not entirely original, still manages its own pleasures. It suffers from its surrounding context, however, which does little to bring the track to life or highlight its best characteristics.
Despite coming up short on memorable moments, the album’s occasional peaks can be gratifying. The most successful cut here, “All of the Time”, encapsulates much of the album’s movement within a single track. The first half commands the listener’s interest by mobilizing large swaths of negative space, subtle beats, and crisp, gentle melodies. Gradually, a denser and more propulsive bass line asserts itself, and the track coalesces into a remarkably direct and accessible dance track.
“All of the Time” kicks off the album’s largely superior second half. “Don’t” crafts an intricate web of digitized beats amid hollow, marimba-like percussion, while “Star-rise” features a cascade of synths sounding exactly like what its title advertises. “Seeds”, featuring Khalif Jones (formerly Le1f) in the album’s only vocal contribution, is but a slight misstep. The song somehow manages to fade into the background despite its relative uniqueness, but it at least evinces a certain shy warmth. The album later reassembles itself for the tense, spacious closer “Wet Eyes and Exhilaration”, which finds the duo at their most genuinely innovative. This final track glides subtly between driving, physical rhythm and a melodic line of characteristically celestial keyboards, concluding the record with an indecipherable murmur and a beguiling sense of unease.
Teengirl Fantasy gesture plenty at dark, intense, minimal electronic music on 8AM. At times, the music briefly captures the effect they seem to be going for, but too often the duo fails to commit and develop their soundscapes sufficiently. The result is mostly signs and signals that suggest familiar forms of the genre, but rarely animate those forms with their own distinctive character. As a result, the album may have a hard time lodging in one’s memory.
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