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White Noise: Teebs – Collections 01

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Teebs – Collections 01

Cook, Clean, Pay The Rent

Verbena Tea with Rebekah Raff

Yellow More New

The debut album from Teebs, aka LA-based Mtendere Mandowa, Ardour, was received on release as organic music for the Brainfeeder set. It had all the complex production and hip-hop influences of Flying Lotus and his crowd, but was far more pretty and accessible, incorporating swirling acoustic textures and gentle beats. Unfortunately, Ardour’s density and sheer volume of tracks made it rather impenetrable as an LP, as all the beautifully subtle moments were blurred into each other and forgotten across the length of an album that didn’t quite suit being played all the way through or having singles picked out. On Collections 01, the first in a series of mini-albums Teebs intends to release throughout his career, the tunes are given more space to breathe and there are far fewer of them, resulting in the smooth and engaging listen that Ardour always had the potential to be. On the other hand, with an album like Shlohmo’s stellar debut Bad Vibes cornering the acoustic-electronic divide within the genre this summer, can Teebs’ compositions stand out now they have more stringent competition?

It’s not an entirely easy question to answer, and obviously it will come down to individual tastes as always. The tracks here are more loop-based and relaxing than Shlohmo’s but they also lack the gripping melodies that make every single track stand out. A clear similarity between the two is the extraordinarily lush compositions present throughout, with melodies and beats rarely composing more than half the sound, often giving way to subtle record hiss, distortions and vague swirling synths. Across this suite of tracks Teebs shows a greater variety of tone and mood than on his debut, and some songs here are a pure delight. In Cook, Clean, Pay The Rent gauzy melodies swell and conjure images of a blissed-out domestic life, while follow-up Pretty Polly twins an incredibly textured soundfield with a hazy locked loop and ethereal female vocals. Another clear standout here is Verbena Tea featuring harpist Rebekah Raff, in which Teebs’ loose beats and lush washes are combined beautifully with Raff’s celestial and melodies.

There is certainly a greater sense of space across these tracks than on Ardour, and it’s surely to Teebs’ credit that each one is defiantly pretty and engaging, and it’s an incredibly relaxing collection to listen to as a whole. On the other hand, some of the shorter tracks here feel a little bit insubstantial, such as the directionless interlude Your Favorite Weekday or the pretty but forgettable Jahara. Whilst final cut Yellow More New is one of the most fully realised and engaging of the collection, penultimate Red Curbs Loop sounds like it could actually be a Shlohmo track and the extended version of Ardour’s While You Dooooo is nothing to write home about if you’re already heard the original.

My problem with this release is that I enjoy these songs and think they’re genuinely well made and engaging, but I feel as if they’re perhaps better placed in the background, not really seeming meaty enough to really stick your teeth into. These are pretty songs, but I’m not sure there’s anything particularly memorable on this release, especially with artists like Shlohmo (and to a lesser extent Shigeto) carving out such interesting work from a similar niche that is genuinely gratifying to revisit over long periods of time. After all, longevity is the true parameter that sets a great album apart from a brilliant one; will I still be listening to this a year from now?

But all in all, it’s relatively hard to fault Teebs here. This is a lush and hypnotic collection of tracks that could provide a gorgeous accompaniment to many a lazy afternoon, and this is what Teebs seems to have in mind. Added to this it’s a vast improvement on the overcrowded Ardour, and shows steps forward for him as a producer in terms of range, awareness of space and versatility. After spending some time with this discreet set of songs, it’s hard not to fall prey to their woozy and chilled-out charms, and I think it’s safe to say Teebs will be offering us some equally delightful tunes in the future.


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