THE TELEPHONE LINE
The Telephone Line - EP
* * 1/2
Contemporary pop music has always had a strong Teutonic streak. The strains of Giorgio, Kraftwerk, and Yello are obvious in much of the digi-pop rubbish on the charts at present, yet the deliberate mechanical bleakness of these artists--machine as ethos--has largely disappeared. The Telephone Line, a teenage duo based out of San Francisco, is one of the few electro-pop artists still holding on to this aesthetic--but rather than using it in support of their artistic aims, The Telephone Line aim to deconstruct all the Euro-influenced music currently in the charts.
There is plenty of Auto-Tune and Owl City-ish monophone synth on the tracks on the Telephone Line’s debut EP, but it is not used to create a commercial sheen: it is used to make the music sound as bleak and mechanical as possible. The vocals provide as little human warmth as the digital background. This is music that truly could be created by a Man Machine.
The Telephone Line’s bleakness also stems from its cynicism. The album’s most heart-on-sleeve love song is sardonically titled “Ich Gab Dir Krabben” (translation: “I gave you crabs”). “Terrorist” uses a light synthpop beat to support some of the most politically incorrect lyrics ever written. But the most acidic of all is the quasi-optimistic “Song of the Century,” which has vocalist Shane Bannon singing about the sound of the future over a poppy beat by producer/backing vocalist Tano Brock. The Auto-Tune stretches for miles, and the elastic synths recall Owl City’s “Butterfly Wings”--perhaps the juxtaposition of these bright, futuristic lyrics and this ever-so-hatable beat is to make a statement about the fickledom of our pop universe.
The Telephone Line is one of the most fascinating criticisms of current Top 10 music I have ever heard. While other musicians who choose to criticize modern pop (The Key Of Awesome) do so through college-humor parody, Bannon and Brock choose to take bits and pieces of the latest stylistic trends and suck the fun out of them, leaving only the outer shell of dry computerized iciness. This is good for their ethos, but does not always have a positive effect on their music. Much of the album seems a bit too dry, as if the intention was not so much to make genuine art as to see what they could do with the popular sounds. And it doesn’t always have to be such a drag, either--songs like “Shatatah” are groovy enough to work on the dancefloor, but the song in question is only two and a half minutes and is thus far too short for any serious dancing to take place to its beat. The Telephone Line are the latest in a long line of bands, stretching from the Who to the Smashing Pumpkins to Titus Andronicus, who are simply too bogged down by concept.