Fifteen years later, and the cool, opening notes of ‘Fahrenheit Fair Enough’ are still enough to melt the world away in seconds. Telefon Tel Aviv’s 2001 debut was an act of lush transportation in the rapidly transforming landscape of American electronic music, and the intricate movement of the pioneering grooves is just as powerful and dreamy today.
But the reissue of ‘Fahrenheit Fair Enough’ isn’t just a timely celebration—it’s a return to the roots to give new life to the project.
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After the accidental and untimely death of Telefon Tel Aviv’s Charles Cooper in 2009, his partner, Joshua Eustis, went justifiably quiet. Eustis persevered with his own craft as he worked on side projects and toured with Nine Inch Nails, but for the longest time, he just couldn’t bring himself to revive the project without Cooper. 9 times out of ten, that spells the end—without your John Bonhams, how are you supposed to respect what the music had been, and what it had become? Who could pick up those threads through all that silence?
First, we have to go back. The original tracks sound as beautiful and vibrant as they did fifteen years ago—over washes of guitar and soft synths, Eustis and Cooper wove complex and ever-changing rhythms reminiscent of the late 90’s UK IDM scene that pop just as crisply as they did back then. But the real interest is in the second disk of the reissue—eight new tracks from the formative year or so leading into the production of ‘Fahrenheit Fair Enough.’
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The tracks contain a clear blueprint to Telefon’s sound—most obviously, the pair toyed with the development of complex rhythm set over a variety of sounds. Some are set over sociopathic synths akin to Aphex Twin and other contemporaries, but other tracks show the real tone emerging, like the ‘Eight Track Project Cut’ with its distinct, bass-heavy driven beat and, more importantly, the sort of songwriting that slowly unravels into a journey, a surprising progression that became so indicative of their music. Most of the tracks are heavier, atonal, and probably written for a club setting, but every once in a while, a soft pad ekes through and grasps upwards at something subtler. The difference is most striking in the last included track, an earlier cut of ‘What’s The Use Of Feet If You Haven’t Got Legs.’ The original track features the distracted, frenetic sort of tone you’d expect from the IDM of the nineties as much as today, but coupled with the apparent stepping-stone of the recorded guitar track. There used to be a different energy, almost a manic quality to the developing sound that they effaced so beautifully—synths become piano chords, gentle vox buoy the movement, and each and every chirp and snap of the beat is smeared just enough, blurred around the edges to lull in the listener into a kaleidoscopic R&B daydream. Suddenly the track is completely transformed into something new and utterly intimate. Somewhere between those compelling, frantic tracks written in 1999 and the opening of the album proper, Telefon Tel Aviv latched onto something real, something they could love about their music, and the gulf between is sharp.
The beauty of Telefon Tel Aviv is that something new is always happening, each unfolding moment. Sometimes you have to go to the start of things to see where to head next, to trace the lines in between. Hopefully by reconnecting with the old material, melancholy and all, Eustis can continue the colorful legacy Telefon Tel Aviv launched fifteen years ago and bring us the album that he knows full well his late partner deserves.