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A reissue of Telefon Tel Aviv’s landmark debut confirms its greatness

Photo: Corinne Schiavone

When Telefon Tel Aviv’s debut album, Fahrenheit Fair Enough, was first released back in 2001, there was little indication it would stand the test of time quite this well. Initially considered a lesser imitator of late-’90s glitch purveyors wedded to the jazz-influenced Chicago post-rock scene, Joshua Eustis and Charles Cooper’s electronic project captured the sound of an electronic music movement in transition, as the ambient elements of their sound collages melded organic and software-generated noises to create soundscapes both languid and searching. But hearing it again, in the form of a new reissue out on Ghostly International, what’s striking is just how effective the painstakingly arranged record is, both as an album and document of a particular era. Sure, it’s possible to play connect-the-dots between various tracks and probable influences—some early Tortoise here, some Savath y Savalas there—but the organic swing of even the most glitchy tracks, like the urgent “What’s The Use Of Feet If You Haven’t Got Legs?,” sounds strikingly fresh. The intervening years have given Fahrenheit Fair Enough a more timeless quality, as the shift from contemporary comparisons allows it to stand on the strength of its near-immaculate compositions.


The real draw of the reissue is the wealth of bonus tracks pulled from a 1999 archive by Eustis (Cooper passed away in 2009) and threaded throughout the original record, almost creating a double album in the process. These new-old pieces reveal the degree to which the duo ended up in a more organic and jazzy place than they began. It begins with “Reak What,” the first song ever recorded by Telefon Tel Aviv, and its jittery percussion and elegant synths demonstrate just how well-defined the pair’s sense of song structure was from the very start. Tracks like “Cliccum” and “Rittle Alpha” foreground the glitch aesthetic much more heavily than does the later album, as the distortions, bit rate reductions, and electric hums claim central places in the mix. And yet, the impulse toward the kinds of songs that would evolve from the group are present, just below the surface in all these tracks, as the pounding IDM thrum of “7 8” still contains swirling synths in the background, tempering the freneticism. One of the highlights is an alternate version of “What’s The Use…” that replaces the original’s DJ Shadow-esque keyboard melody with muted guitars and a hushed vocal sample, turning it into a more thoughtful and gentle affair. Even with the different strengths and sounds emphasized in these archive tracks, they maintain an impressive fidelity to the record as a whole. Eustis’ new arrangement doesn’t simply tack on some bonus treats for the completists; it expands and modifies the album as a whole, lending it a more expansive vibe—an impressive feat for an album that already captures the sound of a hybridized musical evolution in transition.

Purchase Fahrenheit Fair Enough here, which helps support The A.V. Club.


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