From modest, Tumblr-based beginnings, young Canadian ambient-electronica musician Teen Daze established a considerable fan base through his role as a remix artist for groups such as Tycho and Yeasayer, as well as individual productions. The uplifting melancholy of previous albums Glaciers and All of Us Together are reminiscent of the adolescent nostalgia of Youth Lagoon or haunting aura of Sigur Ros, while The House on the Mountain melds in twangy guitar and ukulele riffs in a sound a lot like Emancipator. Yet with his latest release A World Away, it isn’t exactly clear what he was trying to do.
‘Sun Burst’, the opening track, seems a misnomer. Where previous releases such as ‘Alaska’ would lead us to expect an eruption of energetic, bass driven progressions, ‘Sun Burst’ instead simply finishes. This disappointing anti-climax is dumbfoundingly followed up with minimalist house in ‘Another Night’. This abrupt discontinuity seems to go against one of the fundamental requirements of an ambient album – to set a mood and maintain this for listeners. Yet for what ‘Another Night’ is, the punchy beats and deep funky bass tick all the boxes for a decent trancy EDM track.
Swinging back into a calmer vibe, ‘Reykjavik, January 2015’ is evocative of Teen Daze’s earlier work. Holding more of an edgy sense of progression than either of the opening tracks. The cold, refreshing essence of the Icelandic capital is captured by haunting, fussy synths with stylistic influence clearly taken from Boards of Canada.
And then we have ‘Than’, the track that killed it all for me. The calm mood previously created is shattered intrusively by what initially appears to be the sound of madness and dysphoria. It is the sort of soundtrack you would expect to accompany you through a spout of some horrendous flu. Even beyond this first reaction, listening to this as a stand-alone piece there is very little substance for its relentless 9 minute duration, making it quite frankly, dull. ‘Desert’ does little to salvage the mood, with layers that simply don’t mesh together, being both offbeat and taking a disconcertingly wild variation in tempo. Thankfully, ‘I Feel God in the Water’ moves back to a more pure form of ambience, making it a fitting outro. Appropriately named, the organ beat is suggestive of a soothing lullaby, as if conjuring the feeling of warmth and protection associated with churches, accompanied by the gentle foaming hiss of water.
As a whole, the main flaw of ‘A World Away’ lies in its overly minimalistic and cold composition, making it perfect ammunition for the ‘anti-electronic community’, who could justifiably claim a lack of substance. This major shortfall limits the album to simply being mediocre background music rather than having the warmth and uplifting power of his earlier works. The album’s disjointed nature may have been down to Teen Daze taking a multifaceted approach to the component tracks, but it ends up feeling overly experimental, more like a compilation or anthology of various unrelated pieces. Some of the six tracks arguably have their individual merits, but their arrangement throws out any hope of cohesive enjoyment. There has been considerable eclecticism between his previous albums, each achieving success, yet this felt like somewhat of a ‘swing and a miss’.
I feel as if I’ve trampled all over Teen Daze’s work, so putting all criticisms aside, he is a skillful artist; sentimental, evocative, able to surface raw melancholy emotion. But ‘A World Away’ is just that – irreconcilably distant from Teen Daze’s usual musical craftsmanship.
By Douglas Fraser