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E s t a r a Ed Ledsham , May 27th, 2014 04:15

The LA-based artist Teebs (Mtendere Mandowa) is part of Flying Lotus' Brainfeeder crew/label, and his wonky ambient beat-making fits right into their aesthetic. His new album E s t a r a is his second official release following 2010's Ardour, the album features collaborations with Prefuse 73, Jonti, Populous and Lars Horntveth. Alongside music-making, Mandowa is a dedicated visual artist specialising in collage, and his distinctive style can be found on each of his album covers. In many ways it seems like Brainfeeder has become a way for FlyLo to sign artists from each part of his own musical personality, encompassing hip-hop, IDMish electronica, bass music and various strands of jazz descended from Miles Davis' Second Great Quintet.

E s t a r a finds Teebs' at his most pedestrian, however. His work frequently seems like a far less interesting version of Adult Swim-bump FlyLo or third-rate Prefuse 73. Mandowa's music is largely a blend of tinkly organic instrumentation, tape hiss and chilled hip hop beats, and becomes fairly indistinguishable after a long listen. The album requires the exact right mood and setting and even then it fails to become much more than pleasant background music. The track 'Wavxxes' (which features Lars Horntveth from the fantastic Jaga Jazzist) starts off as fairly dull loop before becoming a duel between saxophone and acoustic guitar that eventually falls apart from what is apparently a wrong note, suggesting its origin might have lain in an informal jam. 

What his fellow Brainfeeders have but Mandowa arguably lacks are interesting rhythmic patterns. It can be difficult to pull interesting tracks or moments out of the album as much of it can be difficult to physically pay attention to. One of the more radical parts of the album is when a levee breaking drum sound erupts out of the placid, folktronic tinkling of 'Shouss Lullaby'. Unfortunately, once the novelty has passed, the Zeppelin-ish drums just seem slightly out of place when the rest of the track just carries on its pedestrian musings around this pseudo-Bonham. 

The high-point of the album is probably 'Hi Hat' which distills its distinctive sound into an interesting enough formula coming across as a lo-fi Brainfeeder version of The Field. The track uses Four Tet-ish loops that coalesce to form a dense wall of sounds that tumble around each other, eventually being joined by a drum beat that cleverly combines a solid, upfront kick drum with the rest of the kit sounding like it was recorded with a broken mic on the other side of the room.

 Teebs' music seems like the aural equivalent of a Tumblr gif: a depthless, looping image that reveals taunting snippets of visuals as you stare at it. Mandowa's work generally comes out as impressionistic noodling that seems to almost rely on a symbiotic visual equivalent. Check out the video to 'Moments' or either of the two videos of Theo Jameson's videos of Mandowa painting synced to his music to get the full Teebs experience. In videos like these, images of LA hills, suburban skating or even Mandowa discussing his artistic vision seem so to become much more meaningful and interesting. There are echoes of Tycho, who also works as a graphic designer, and creates music that, similarly, works well with a visual focus as in his video for Ascension which mines parallel hazy, colourful territory. This is all well and good, but stripped of the visual element this unfortunately becomes an indiscriminate wash of sound.