There is some electronic music that is meant for ass-shakin’ at the club: big fat beats that get the rump rockin’, hyperkinetic rhythms, fast-paced spacey video game sounds and scritch-a-scratch from the turntables all designed to get the party moving and keep the kids on the dance floor.
Then there is electronic music that is made for the contemplative hours, maybe post-party or just lazing around the house on a weekend afternoon, watching the dust motes swirl through beam of light as you contemplate things like space and time. It’s music that is meant to permeate through a certain mood, relaxed detachment maybe, or even an excited introspection. Or maybe it’s just that little extra kick to end an evening of otherwise overwhelming beat frenzy.
Fahrenheit Far Enough is another one of those albums that challenges the whole label of IDM (“Where’s the dance part?”). The album has also been referred to as “space lounge”, which itself has a broad range of implications in music, but it seems the most appropriate. The majority of the music on the disc is anchored by the mellowest of soft jazz. Wispy electric piano keys, with such additional instruments as a synthesized flute or an acoustic guitar, laze about like an ether cloud, supported by very simple and understated drum-machine beats. But overlayed on top of this, like an incongruous pattern of static superimposed on a piece of temperately cool modern art, are all sorts of twitchy computer noises. They range from bleeps and blips to stuttered sound washes, and they make up the electronica portion of the album almost exclusively.
The effect of the music is hard to describe. It’s almost like those kitschy electricity balls they sell in novelty shops. Your fingers on the smooth glass are solid, much like the laudanum lounge music that underlies this disc. But then they’re made into contact points for colored lightning that is jumpy, frenetic and nervous. However, where those little globes don’t allow an actual charge to perceptibly pass through to the listener, here the jolts of the blips directly interact with the quiet jazz landscape.
On songs like “TTV” and the title track, the bleeps and blips aren’t syncopated, and aren’t made to conform to the beat of the drum tracks or the piano melody, but are instead like chaotically random noises. Yet the real interest of the sound hinges on the fact that in the seeming chaos, the sound effects take on their own rhythm, not like a fractal, but more due to their interplay with the melody beneath them. If you’ve ever run a wet rag over a wall socket, held a Tesla coil, or been zapped by a charge through your headphones, you know what’s it’s like to feel momentarily electrified. The music on this album is almost like a more muted version of sticking your tongue to a nine-volt battery.
However, there’s not a whole lot to Fahrenheit Far Enough that keeps it from being anything more than mood music. Although they try to make things seem a bit artsy with song titles like “John Thomas on the Inside is Nothing but Foam”, “Your Face Reminds Me of When I Was Old”, and “What’s the Use of Feet if You Haven’t Got Legs?”, the songs here really aren’t about anything beyond their textures. It effectively reduces Telefon Tel Aviv to sonic wallpaper, which is perhaps the point of ambient music, but nonetheless remains incapable of holding the listener’s full attention. It makes for great headphone music when you’d rather let your thoughts wander than actually focus on the songs.
Ultimately, it’s difficult to criticize ambient music for being too ambient. And on songs like “What’s the Point…” they let the computer noises and synth zaps play the lead role, pushing the calm melodies of the lounge music to the background, which makes for more energetic and engaging listening. Fahrenheit Far Enough is an interesting experience for its very twitchy, charged electricity, but it’s not a disc you’ll find yourself turning to time and again. However, if you’re looking for that perfect auditory companion to those few moments when the mood is both serene and surreal, you could do a whole lot worse than Telefon Tel Aviv.
// Notes from the Road
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