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Telepathe’s Plea for You to “Dance, Mother”

The Brooklyn-based band Telepathe (pronounced “telepathy”) is trying to get you to get down. With all the hype the duo has received, they still deliver sonically, using airy vocals, choppy, mesmerizing rhythms, and a touch of feminine wiles. Their taut, repetitive beats are positively trance-inducing.

Caption: Telepathe. Photo by Andreas Lazlo Konrath.
Caption: Telepathe. Photo by Andreas Lazlo Konrath.

Busy Gangnes and Melissa Livaudais are bringing new meaning to the idea of the girl-group sound pioneered by Phil Spector in the early sixties, through harmonies and a female perspective on relationships (still all too rare in rock music). Perhaps he’d squirm if he heard the comparison, as these girls rap, hide their eyes behind bushy bangs, and deliver much more modern lyrics much more dispassionately than Spector’s protégés. But the April 14 release of Telepathe’s debut album Dance Mother proves that Spector’s signature sound can still be dusted off and taken for a spin.

Comparisons to other, more recent girl groups seem equally unavoidable. To my ear, Telepathe is a sprinkling of the B-52’s, a dash of the reggae-punk girl band the Slits and, in their finest moments, a spoonful of the English band Broadcast, all mashed up in a food processor. Their music has other charms, too: Were I not in my living room drinking tea, I’d swear that during “Lights Go Down” I’d been teleported into a trolling cab in Cairo. Dance Mother combines dub and a bit of synthesized steel drum (think the Knife’s “Pass It On”), a tickle of prog-rock (on “Trilogy: Breath of Life, Crimes and Killings, Threads and Knives”), Castlevania spookiness, ghetto shoegazer harmonizing, and, here and there, speak-singing.

“So Fine,” Dance Mother’s opening track, is an audible valentine with tinny drums and fuzzy bass. The song also inspired a video featuring a coordinated dance routine in a darkened alley, a là Thriller. What were they thinking? I have no idea, but I’m intrigued.

Gangnes and Livaudais are firmly situated in the iPod era, sometimes performing with nothing but microphones and their pre-recorded beats. They use their arms and bodies to communicate with the audience, Livaudais even occasionally from the floor.

As much as they may hide their eyes, these two aren’t shy. “Go ahead and come so hard,” implores the duo on “Michael.” “God is watching, you know you’re a star.” The line “Give it up when the lights go down,” from the same song, might be construed as equally naughty. “I wanna watch you suffer violently…My greatest joy would be to destroy you”: Such turns of phrase lead the listener to the darker recesses of Telepathe’s collective mind.

Gangnes and Livaudais told me via email that to create songs, they start by simply “making a beat, bassline, or looping a sample” and then layering in instruments. Words come “by playing a game of exquisite corpse,” but still seem to characterize the twenty-something experience (with lyrics like “Oh you know it could be so much better” and “Lets go make out in the snow”).

The title track of last year’s Chrome’s On It, Telepathe’s EP debut, also made its way onto Dance Mother. Unfortunately, it stands out as the clumsiest song in this grouping. This could be because the ladies now have more experience under their belt, or it could be due to the fact that David Sitek of TV on the Radio is providing the production wizardry, sprucing the album up beyond what the duo could have imagined a year ago. “We learned a lot from Dave. We consider him our teacher,” the band said. “He has an amazing collection of analog synths and drum machines, so we went crazy and tried every idea we had. He made our music sound huge!”

Strong harmonies and powerful beats underpin the music on Dance Mother. Repetition can be comforting and satisfying on the record, but occasionally it becomes like the dips in a roller coaster ride you’d rather have ended already. At their best, though—like the song “Can’t Stand It,” which has a sailboat steadiness, featuring ethereal vocals in the spirit of My Bloody Valentine and a reliably present guitar—Telepathe delivers the goods.

This spring, the band will open for the Faint and Ladytron all over the U.S., and they’ll be performing April 15 at the Annex in Brooklyn for the release of Dance Mother. See them before their venues and fan base grow even bigger.


Paula Crossfield


The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2009

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