There was a time, not long ago, that Joshua Eustis doubted whether he would ever make another Telefon Tel Aviv record. Between 2001 and 2009, Eustis and his duo partner Charlie Cooper recorded three albums, establishing a singular fusion of maze-like circuitry and soulful melancholy that is part Autechre and part Depeche Mode. Then, the same week that their third album Immolate Yourself was released, Cooper disappeared and was found dead in his sleep. Shortly thereafter, Eustis’ father died, and then the film director John Hughes passed, whose son had put out Telefon Tel Aviv’s first album, and who Eustis said “was like a second father to me.” With a sizeable chunk of his world suddenly wiped out, Eustis faced the task of starting over.
Gradually, he did just that. In 2014, Eustis released a solo album of elegant synth pop as Sons of Magdalene.. He produced for Tropic of Cancer and Vatican Shadow. He played in Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan’s group Puscifer and the brooding synth-pop trio the Black Queen; he was a touring member of Nine Inch Nails. And with Belong’s Turk Dietrich, he recorded two albums of deeply experimental dance music as Second Woman. Now, a decade after Immolate Yourself, Eustis returns with Dreams Are Not Enough, his first solo album under the alias.
Telefon Tel Aviv were always downcast, but Dreams Are Not Enough sharpens and strengthens their most morose tendencies into a kind of probing and exquisite bleakness—what Eustis has described as “the rapture of despair.” The suffering is inseparable from the serotonin rush; it is storm-tossed sea and lifeboat all in one.
The album is formally inventive in a way we don’t often expect of music so firmly grounded in gloomy electronic pop. In the course of the record’s trim 50 minutes, it winds between sandblasted ambient and misty-eyed synth pop, industrial techno and chamber choir; there are echoes of Chicago acid and Arvo Pärt alongside apocalyptic sound design reminiscent of Ben Frost. The scale of the thing is enormous, suggesting cliffs cleaving into the sea.
Certain tropes recur throughout: Chief among these is a strange kind of zippering rhythm, speeding and slowing in cycles, like a stick being dragged along a metal grill. Second Woman made extensive use of the technique, but if there it could feel clinical, like an experiment in search of a real-world application, here it has a powerful emotional undertow. In the album’s opening track, it works like a bellows, stoking dull coals into full flame, and it’s put into similar service on nearly every song, wringing something wild and unpredictable out of what might otherwise have been merely politely forlorn. It often feels like the very stuff of the music is being torn apart.
This recurring arrhythmic energy helps bind the album; so do the ambient interludes that stitch together contrasting tracks. The whole album works as a suite, a deep dive into a dream state. Eustis says he has experienced both lucid dreaming and sleep paralysis, and the album’s song titles are drawn from one of his nighttime visions. When read down the tracklist, they constitute a brief poem:
I dream of it often:
a younger version of myself,
standing at the bottom of the ocean;
still as stone in a watery fane.
Fittingly, for such an expression of Romantic yearning, Eustis’ songs dwell mostly upon loss, regret, and the passage of time, though his words are frequently indecipherable, buried beneath layers of distortion. It seems likely that’s on purpose: The lyrics are right there on the sleeve of the record, but they are mostly expressions of the kind of hurt that is as private as it is universal. Eustis dances between revealing and concealing, admission and denial, and that tension animates the record from within: emotional whiplash as the engine of life. In this, the album plays out very much like the sweep of grief itself.
Buy: Rough Trade
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