It was just last year that Busy Gangnes and Melissa Livaudais got many an online pulse racing with a series of singles that hinted at the kind of greatness that could be expected of them in the future, but it’s doubtful anyone could have anticipated anything as wonderfully poppy and accessible as the material on Telepathe’s sublime debut Dance Mother, especially for those who were already familiar with the girls in their earlier incarnation as purveyors of the dark and dense drone sounds that dominated their Farewell Forest release. Of course, with TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek on board as producer, this isn’t pop as we know it, rather it’s an avant-garde distillation, twisted and transformed into something genuinely exciting and pleasantly challenging but which thankfully never veers into the impenetrable.
Fans may already be familiar with the slow-build codeine balladry of “I Can’t Stand It,” and the endearingly naïve future-funk of “Chrome’s on It,” both slightly spruced up here, but with their new material the girls have unexpectedly managed to trump those songs that already garnered them so much attention, coming up with songs that possess the kind of expansive thoughtfulness that eludes so much of the dance genre: “The Devils Trident” builds on a mystifying incantation of intriguingly obtuse stream-of-conscious words and crescendos, with the girls’ united voices seemingly rising as if to battle the brass that unobtrusively elevates the song into a thing of transcendental wonder; “Lights Go Down” is a tense, skittering gem that rides on an arching synth line possessed of a strangely regal malevolence; while “So Fine,” with it’s propulsive electro beat, swooning vocals, and devastatingly simple melody, should become one of the year’s defining songs.
An influence that, beneath the carefully orchestrated layers of shoegazer atmospherics and cryptic wordplay may not seem so apparent on first listen, is Southern hip-hop, the resoundingly experimental invention of which Telepathe explores with compelling results. In the same way Burial has continued to make otherworldly noise spooked by the similarly radio-friendly sounds of U.K. garage and teen heartthrob R&B, Telepathe’s strange and at times disorientating music is haunted by the tinny, synthetic weirdness of lost and unloved Cash Money records and the misunderstood bombastic aggro-crunk of Lil’ Jon and his cohorts, simultaneously encapsulating and retaining the D.I.Y. rawness that has come to typify so much of the urban music that has come out of the South in the last 10 years or so. When Gangnes and Livaudais aren’t harmonizing beautifully with one another like some kind of new-age girl group of yesteryear, the pair has a tendency to deliver their words with all the tenseness of an MC battle, at times sounding almost frantic to beat one another to the punch. It’s thrilling to hear a sound so readily and unfairly dismissed as strip-joint fodder utilized and given new life as a thing of spectral wonder.
If Gangnes and Livaudais occasionally sound a little unsure of themselves or of where they’re going, it’s because they’re obviously still in the process of trying to define an individual artistic character for themselves. Even when they occasionally stumble ever so slightly under the weight of their own ambition, the reckless, adventuring spirit that comprises Dance Mother is one of the compelling things that makes it sound like one of the more exciting debut albums to emerge in long while, and there is something timeless about watching artists like Telepathe explore their burgeoning talents and navigate their way through disparate influences to create unique and unexpected pop music. Dance Mother can be added alongside fellow Brooklynites Animal Collective’s future classic Merriweather Post Pavillion to the list of albums that will surely come to define 2009.