Remember that avant-garde movie that someone said would make sense “when you were older,” but which still doesn’t? Telepathe’s debut album, “Dance Mother,” is like that. Except that understanding it is beside the point. It’s edgy and experimental, yes, but that doesn’t make it much fun to listen to. “Dance Mother” has all of the components of electronica, but they are slapped together incomprehensibly. The cryptic lyrics come across as deeply profound (read: meaningless).
Telepathe (pronounced “telepathy”) has a key fact going for them: People want to like them. The Brooklyn-based duo of Busy Gangnes and Melissa Livaudais is a female act in a male-dominated genre, and they are ambitious in their melodic experimentation.
The band drummed up initial interest on music blogs with the single “Chrome’s On It” in 2008, and were further bolstered with word-of-mouth buzz after David Sitek of TV on the Radio signed on to produce “Dance Mother.” In the end, though, the result is a lot of bleeps and cooing without any endpoint.
“Dance Mother” is one long, synth-infused moan. And it is, at first, unlistenable for its disconcerting and unfamiliar style. After the initial adjustment, it becomes more palatable, but an acceptance of “Dance Mother” is more a matter of getting used to it than coming to like it. The simultaneously ambient and droning quality of every track demands a kind of zen-like focus. The album’s otherworldly quality, paired with repetition of phrases like “the hunt” (sung “the HUN-T”) on the track “Lights Go Down,” leave the impression that it’s impossible to give “Dance Mother” a fair chance without being high.
Gangnes and Livaudais work with a variety of vocal techniques, including spoken word, but for all the diversity, neither of their personalities come through. Telepathe claims hip-hop influences, but seems to have missed an essential element of it. For women influenced by a genre that is all about virtuosity and personality, their tone is flat and unengaging. This anonymity is the larger problem with “Dance Mother”: For all the texture from guitars, drum machines and jerky synths, the overall sound feels disengaged.
On top of that, the tracks are aimless. “Devil’s Trident,” for instance, starts out with something like a synth rainforest, complete with electronic frog croaks. After the abrupt introduction of vocals, the song devolves and loses focus, falling into repetition and shrieking synths. Every song peters out rather than ending, and hovers in tempo between an R&B slow jam and a dance track.
Much of “Dance Mother” feels like experimentation for the sake of experimentation. But occasionally it does cohere. On tracks like “Michael,” the beat’s mismatches, abrupt stops and synth squeals actually create momentum. The duo plays with lines like “Your greatest joy would be to destroy me / Go ahead…” which sketches a sinister, personal love story with details sorely missed on the rest of the album.
If electronica, pop and hip-hop are purebreds, Telepathe is aiming for a hypo-allergenic, intelligent super-mutt. However, what they’ve pulled up on “Dance Mother” is a hairless cat: Pleasing to a select few, cringe-worthy for many.