Telefon Tel Aviv’s brutish, dark and lonely return.
How do you go on? That’s been the question attached to every murmuring from Telefon Tel Aviv for the last decade. In 2009, the Chicago-based duo had just released Immolate Yourself, their third record that decade, another exciting, adventurous foray into downtempo. They’d cemented themselves as, at best, an American amalgam of Portishead instrumentals and Four Tet wonkiness. But two days after Immolate Yourself debuted, founding member Charles Cooper died.
In the 10 years since, Joshua Eustis has kept himself busy. He released music under a number of monikers and toured as a member of Nine Inch Nails. But he’s been circling back toward Telefon Tel Aviv for the last few years. And finally, we have Dreams Are Not Enough, Telefon Tel Aviv’s brutish, dark and lonely return.
Dreams Are Not Enough is more brooding than any Telefon album before it, and more pondering as well. The titles, spliced together, read as short form prose, mingling general thoughts on mortality and Eustis’ own grappling with Cooper’s absence. It is a record of grief, and even without background knowledge of the horror that informs the album, Dreams Are Not Enough rings out like a wake. The sparkling synths of “a younger version of myself,” shimmer as the album’s most pop moment and still sink into the murk of ghostly ambiance. The drums here rattle upward, like they were being sucked through straws. It is an uncanny experience, especially with Eustis cooing in the background, his words obscured.
Dreams Are Not Enough is an album of bursts. Slow boils and simmers are often interrupted by long stretches of silence or white noise. Focal point “arms aloft,” has a rippling melody line, deeply textured so it becomes the base rhythm along with the kick drum. It dances between dirge and rave, and closes with a long sigh of ambiance, unable, or unwilling, to keep its energy afloat. “mouth agape,” fizzes like Tim Hecker’s Radio Amor, filled with pools of warm synths and blindingly bright passages of noise that overwhelm everything else. It pulls a fake ending twice, tearing pauses asunder with great eruptions of noise that are at once beautiful and entirely too much.
And there are moments where the terror can’t be contained. “not seeing,” glitches like an askew N64 carriage, old 16-bit sounds crushed and compressed into the pulse of the song before a single clap reverberates like an earthquake and mad, near Theremin-like solo wavers into view. Eustis’ voice comes back in as the outburst disappears, sounding like it’s coming from a distant room, a half-remembered song just floating into ear shot.
The closing duo have the closest connection to old Telefon work, with “not breathing,” serving as a smashing bit of hardcore and “still as stone in a watery fane.” a stretchy piece of ambience. Taken together, they close Dreams Are Not Enough with the steps of grief. “not breathing,” the uncomprehending rage, “still as stone in a watery fane.” an unsure silence. Where Eustis goes from here is unknown, but he’s made a collection of the feelings of limbo and a fitting end to Telefon.