Teebs E S T A R A

[Brainfeeder; 2014]

Styles: electronic, beat music, womb pop
Others: Manual’s first two albums, Everyone Alive Wants Answers, Boards of Canada sometimes, specks of dust floating in sunlight

Here are my results when I do a Google search for the word “estara”:

First, a definition courtesy of Wiktionary: In Spanish, Galician, and Portuguese, estará is apparently a future indicative form of the verb estar, to be. Fourth, the Realm of Estara, a “fully immersive medieval role play environment in the virtual world of Second Life,” where “faith and fate are the key!” Fifteenth, South Africa’s Estara Guesthouse and Function Centre, located “at the foot of the majestic Magaliesberg.” “Have you ever felt like you have the world on your shoulders? And all you want to do is escape? We have the solution!!!” And sixth, a Resident Advisor announcement of the new LP by Mtendere Mandowa, the Los Angeles-based producer and visual artist better known as Teebs, who has named his second proper full-length E S T A R A after the home studio where he works.

At the risk of making something out of nothing, I see a common thread running through these results. The Realm of Estara and the Estara Guesthouse are sites of escape and restoration. The verb “to be” is rather open-ended, but when used in a certain way — not “to be anxious” or “to be on time,” but just “to be,” or, more to the point, “to be in the moment” — it too can hint at a kind of therapy. Then there is the music of Teebs, which Flying Lotus has described as sounding like an island vacation.

And it’s a fair description. Much of the music on E S T A R A is warm, sun-dappled, and dreamy. On “Mondaze,” Teebs pairs a serene, simple melody — I think it’s a heavily processed vocal sample — with tropical bird-like chirps. Opening track “The Endless” concludes with a sound almost like a babbling brook. And the aptly-titled “Holiday” features sweet, salutary singing by Teebs’ fellow Angeleno, Jonti.

Teebs makes ambient music, in the sense that he does not aim to challenge his listeners or to arouse particularly strong emotions. Instead, he creates sonic spaces in which you can simply drift. The effect is suggestive rather than direct, like a half-remembered childhood memory that is powerfully sensory but devoid of context.

“Shoouss Lullaby” opens with a lovely cradle melody, hummed softly and slightly submerged in the mix; you can also hear what sounds like a clattering toddler’s toy and tinkling bells, which I happily imagine Mtendere Mandowa gently shaking into his sampler’s built-in microphone. The following track, “SOTM,” is covered in a pleasant surface noise, like that from a well-worn slab of vinyl salvaged from your parents’ collection, and many of the song’s textures have a delicate, friable quality, like an old piece of paper that might crumble at your touch. Elsewhere, Teebs employs sounds that are vaguely retro but also timeless: in the opening burst of “Wavxxes,” for example, or in the closing 40 seconds of “NY Pt. 2.”

These are two of E S T A R A’s strongest tracks, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they also both happen to be collaborations. That’s not to say that Teebs’ music can’t stand on its own, of course, but that his sound benefits greatly from the added perspective and character of a second creative voice. “NY Pt. 2,” which features his Sons of the Morning partner Prefuse 73, has a buoyant, lively beat that makes it one of the most immediate and dynamic cuts on the record. “Wavxxes,” which concludes E S T A R A, charmingly winds down with the beautiful bass clarinet playing of Norwegian multi-instrumentalist Lars Horntveth; it is E S T A R A’s most organic, open, and inviting stretch.

But many of the other songs on this album feel rather static and enclosed. Teebs creates beautiful miniature musical worlds, but at what point do spaces like these — no matter how soothing or pretty — become a bit claustrophobic? Or, a related question: How long before the act of dwelling on a warm childhood memory turns sickly-sweet? And when does a tropical island escape — or a fully immersive medieval role play environment, for that matter — start to feel like guilty escapism?

There are no correct answers to these questions. For some people, perhaps they never do.

Links: Teebs - Brainfeeder

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