If I were to describe Telefon Tel Aviv’s debut album Fahrenheit Fair Enough as “meditational” music, one might mistakenly assume that I meant it dismissively. As facets of Eastern culture and spirituality been appropriated, diluted, and bastardized in Western culture over at least the past 50 years or so, the kinds of music many have unfortunately come to associate with practices like meditation, mindfulness, or yoga are typically caricatured over-performances of serenity and calmness. The kind of music you might also hear in a massage parlor, the thinking goes; music that emphasizes “relaxation” above all else. We have a tragic legacy of clichéd and cheesy New Age releases to thank for this phenomenon.
Reissued for its 15th anniversary, Fahrenheit Fair Enough hits some of these same notes, and it remains a fundamentally pleasant and undisturbed listen. You certainly could play it during a yoga class filled with white hipsters, and they would probably eat it up. Nonetheless, while Joshua Eustis and the late Charles Cooper were most likely not consciously thinking about meditation specifically while working on their first album, Fahrenheit induces not just a state of calm but a state of awareness, making the “meditational” label perhaps more apt than usual. It is music seemingly designed for the observation and appreciation of simple things. If you want to watch the clouds go by, or stare absently out the window of a bus, or watch a leaf float down a river or something, this is your album. And yet, it somehow also manages to sidestep becoming mere background music. The intricacy and technicality of its production attract one’s attention in their own right, creating a reciprocal paradox that directs the listener’s awareness simultaneously inwards and outwards.
The album’s ethos is perhaps best captured by the eponymous opening track, which combines an electric keyboard motif with faint accents of whirring, clattering electronica. Indeed, while Telefon Tel Aviv are most associated with electronic music subgenres like IDM and ambient techno, this seems odd when re-listening to their debut, which places traditional instrumentation in the forefront more often than not and uses an electronic palette primarily, again, as an accent. Fahrenheit Fair Enough could also be conceptualized as something of a war between order and chaos, with order represented by those more traditional sounds and chaos by the atonal electronic machinery clinking and banging around in the background.
The full-length bookends of the album, “Fahrenheit Fair Enough” and “Introductory Nomenclature”, embody the balanced integration of these disparate styles, though things get more contentious somewhere in between. “Life Is All About Taking Things in and Putting Things Out” is a reflective reverie via acoustic guitar, minimizing the electronics to mere peripheral buzzing. “John Thomas on the Inside Is Nothing But Foam”—now might be a good time to point out that the album also has willfully bizarre song titles—is reminiscent of post-rock contemporaries like Mogwai or a more restrained Explosions in the Sky, driven as it is by a sweet, blissful guitar motif which, I’ll say it again, is ideal for cloud watching. You might poo-poo this as unserious music, but I kid you not, go watch some clouds to this song and I guarantee you will be feeling it. When “Your Face Reminds Me of When I Was Old” and “What’s the Use of Feet If You Haven’t Got Legs” take the reins, though, it’s all found sounds, glitchy beats, and ambient drones again, electronica having shattered the guitars and forced them into submission.
Given how un-electronic this electronic album can be at times, listening to the previously unreleased “archives” included on the reissue’s bonus disc is surprising. This version of what Fahrenheit Fair Enough evidently might have been is in fact quite electronic. If the original album pays subtle homage to Aphex Twin by weaving chilly, mechanical elements into post-rock structures, the archived material is an absolute liturgy to the work of Richard D. James and Autechre. These tracks strip away traditional instrumentation entirely and concentrate on complexly interlaid digital textures, creating tracks that would hardly feel out of place if spliced among selections from Syro. This is notable, given that Syro came out in 2014 and these tracks were composed and promptly thrown in the vault back in 1999. It is certainly impressive that Telefon Tel Aviv were able to craft such deft compositions on par with the great electronic masters at this time, though this also means that the bonus material runs the risk of being somewhat less original than the, well, original album. “Cliccum” stands out as the best of the bunch, buoyed by a bright melody that effectively counterbalances all the glitchiness, compared with some of its neighbors like “Rittle Alpha” that prefer to wallow in the mire of dissonance.
Fifteen years down the road, it doesn’t quite seem apt to remember Fahrenheit Fair Enough as some kind of pinnacle or emblem of any particular genre, sitting as it does at the nexus between post-rock, ambient techno, glitch, and IDM. (Side note: if we start calling IDM “introverted dance music” instead of “intelligent dance music” can we maybe rescue the term from obnoxiousness and keep using it? It would probably be a more accurate moniker anyway, and you have to admit the word makes for useful shorthand). Telefon Tel Aviv’s debut, at least in its original conception, is more interested in exploring its competing impulses and fascinations rather than honing in on a singular style, which the duo proved can be just as engaging. It is also an album that is perhaps best enjoyed while engaging in some other kind of simple activity: going for a walk, knitting, drinking tea. This is the “meditative” quality mentioned earlier, and while it perhaps violates purist principles that good music should somehow exist in isolation from any particular context or activity, perhaps here we should check such an idea at the door. With its bonus disc of unreleased electronic experimentations, the reissue of Fahrenheit Fair Enough is a document of forward-thinking genre wars that will fascinate one’s faculties and promote a still, meditative awareness.
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