At the time of writing this review, the Telefon Tel Aviv website simply consists of one page that reads "Charles Wesley Cooper III, April 12, 1977-January 22, 2009." Cooper formed Telefon Tel Aviv with high school friend Joshua Eustis at the tail end of the 20th century, and their musical collaboration came to an unceremonious end just as this third full-length album was nearing release (the circumstances of Cooper’s death are unclear). There’s a sadness deeply embedded in most of the music Cooper and Eustis made together, but the emotional ante is considerably raised on realizing this is the final outing for this particular incarnation of the band.
Opening song “The Birds” is among the best tracks the Chicago-based duo recorded during its brief history together, and if there’s one song that forms a suitable musical epithet for Cooper, it’s this one. Comparisons have often been drawn between the band and M83, the Knife and Hot Chip, but Telefon Tel Aviv skirt closer to the emotional core of acts like John Maus, the coda of Animal Collective’s “Chores” and Japan’s “Ghosts.” Like many of their best songs, “The Birds” is built from a simple jittery riff, with Cooper and Eustis fading subtle electronic tones and textures in and out of the mix as the track progresses.
Depeche Mode is regularly mentioned in relation to the band, but they’re closer in feel to Vince Clarke’s post-Mode experimentation with Yazoo (or Yaz, as they were called on this side of the Atlantic) and the Assembly. “The Birds” and its follow-on track, “Your Mouth,” both contain the same feeling of wanton yearning, of displaced happiness, that are deeply rooted in Clarke’s “Only You” or “Never Never.” The coiling repetition of krautrock bands such as Cluster and Harmonia also exert a sizable influence, with the looped outro of “M” desperately requiring some kind of CD/MP3 equivalent of the lock-groove to aid its circuitous journey into infinity.
There are two shades to Telefon Tel Aviv, but they rarely venture into outright pop here, and it’s the album’s one major foible. Immolate Yourself needs a few more tracks like “Helen of Troy,” which is built from similar stock to A-ha’s “Take on Me” and proves that Cooper and Eustis had a real knack for song structure as well as the kind of trance-y electropop grooves they could bend into such beautiful shape. The second half of the record is the direct inverse of the first, with forgettable antsy techno such as “Stay Away From Being Maybe” and the rattling drum patterns of “Your Every Idol” lacking the concise cohesion that pulses through the best Telefon Tel Aviv tracks.
It’s unknown whether Eustis will carry on with the band, but Immolate Yourself provides a reasonable closing chapter to this part of Telefon Tel Aviv’s career. The album conjures up equal measures of frustration and dejection, especially as it bears all the hallmarks of a band growing in stature, who may have just delivered on all that untapped potential on a finely honed fourth or fifth record. Sadly, it’s not to be, but a few choice cuts from this and their preceding albums would make an elegant greatest-hits package.