Much as I love the TV On The Radio album, I wonder sometimes if all the hype surrounding David Sitek might be a bit out of hand. For a start, reading some of the stories about “Dear Science”, you’d be forgiven for imagining that he made the entire record single-handed, when in fact virtually all the songwriting was handled by the band’s vocalists and, perhaps, creative heart, Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone.
Then there’s the perception that, as a producer, Sitek has an unfallible magic touch; that everything he touches turns to hipster gold. Actually, his CV isn’t entirely unblemished, as some of us who were left nonplussed by, say, the Celebration records can testify. Sometimes, Sitek’s aesthetic can be as smothering as it is opulent.
A case in point, I guess, was that Scarlett Johansson album from earlier this year, where Sitek’s massed synth architecture was presumably designed as a counterpoint to Johansson’s offhand vocals, at once chilly and oddly conversational. For me at least, it didn’t really work, but it’s clearly a juxtaposition that Sitek likes.
For here’s the debut album by Telepathe, from Brooklyn somewhat inevitably, and while once again it would be dumb to ascribe unbounded Machiavellian qualities to Sitek, they’re a duo whose vision seems pretty well-suited to the hook-up.
Melissa Livaudais and Busy Gagnes have diffident, airy voices, and to his credit, Sitek often gives them plenty of space to breathe in the nine songs on this excellent record. The comparative spaciousness of “Dear Science” is followed up here, so that the layers of gushing vintage synths are built up gradually. “Devil’s Trident” is quite brilliant, overlapping streams-of-consciousness unravelling while the instrumentation gracefully increases; by the end, it seems as if the Antibalas horn section, so prominent on the TV On The Radio album of course, may even have crept in to thicken out the mix.
There’s something trancey, even a little witchy, about “Devil’s Trident” and other tracks here like “Lights Go Down”. Although the gear may in some cases date from the ‘80s (and judging by a few pics, some of the outfits may, too), it’s hard to find obvious antecedents: imagine “Hounds Of Love” if Kate Bush were replaced by The Raincoats or The Slits springs to mind this morning, though it seems quite a way off the mark to be honest. Perhaps more accurately, much of “Dance Mother” feels like an upgrading of the ‘80s 4AD sound; the translucent grandeur of “Can’t Stand It”, particularly, is heavily redolent of the Cocteau Twins.
The twitching beats that orbit round so many of the tracks, on the other hand, are clearly informed by various derivatives of R&B and hip hop. But the resulting music is a kind of obscurely catchy art-pop, where the street beats have been transformed into something mystical and otherworldly. There are plenty of groups working in this area at the moment, all hazy chanting, imprecise exoticism, a hint of rituals being enacted beneath Williamsburg warehouse spaces: High Places, Rings, Effi Briest and even Chairlift are all making good music not a million miles from this.
But “Dance Mother” is the best and most powerful manifestation of the scene thus far, I reckon. Here’s their Myspace. Have a listen and, as ever, let me know what you think.