Review: Teengirl Fantasy – Tracer

Teengirl Fantasy
R&S Records

Much of the press accompanying Teengirl Fantasy’s second album seems focused on the ‘live’ sample-free element to their sound. This seems a considerable misapprehension on the part of those who have written about Tracer.

After all, such an undue fixation with methodology suggests a desire for a kind of illusive ‘authenticity’, like an archaic puritanism for bands that ‘still play their own instruments’. Fortunately, for the rest of the world this reiteration of real musicianship can be laid to rest pretty quickly. It makes very little difference whether Tracer was programmed by Nick Weiss and Logan Takahashi, or is the demo setting for your new mobile: either way it is a strange and beautiful accomplishment.  

An initial listen of the album is likely to prove disappointing. The sound leans heavily on high-gloss synths that suggest late eighties and early nineties Soul and R&B. A number of electronic acts have re-purposed similar in recent times, Hudson Mohawke and Rustie being among the most successful. First impressions suggest that Teengirl Fantasy have failed to bring anything new in their particular choice of sonic palette, yet repeat plays begin to reveal some of the intricacies at work within the songs. The trick is in the structure: tracks spread through landscapes so delicate that it fails to register the first time.

In the case of Eternal, shifting drum patterns mark the transition between softly insistent synth lines; it even features a pan-pipe sound that wouldn’t be out of place as the centrepiece of shopping centre mood music. The entire album is full of these unusual disjunctions, where an individual element of a song seems crass or ill-judged when singled out, but within the arrangement it is incorporated brilliantly. This seems to be Teengirl Fantasy’s particular gift, the ability to compose and arrange in such a way that makes each counterpoint an advantage, rather than a barrier, to a song’s overall feeling.

Tracer features a number of notable vocal contributors, Laurel Halo and Animal Collective’s Panda Bear in particular lending their own form of hazy interventions. Do It, the penultimate track, offers up a fist-pumping house anthem that wouldn’t be entirely out of place in a half-empty bowling alley, or suburban entertainments complex. Its sterile lyrical affirmations (provided by Romanthony) and unremitting thudding actually become strangely compelling, an inversion of the hyper-capital plasticity of radio-friendly dance. The fact it is a clear contender for such immediate commercial appeal makes the decision to put it at the far end of the album all the more wonderful, a wilful and perverse gesture deserving of praise. Tracer is full of such perversities, an album with a gradual charm that dares to pick up the most suspect of sounds and yet doesn’t suffer for it.

Words: Andrew Spragg

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