Teen Daze has done a lot in 12 years. Jamison Isaak’s project has been on the forefront of chillwave (All of Us, Together is a classic of the subgenre), done electro-acoustic fusions (The House on the Mountain), produced motorik techno cuts (A World Away), conducted a double-album concept record on climate change (Themes for Dying Earth and Themes for a New Earth), dropped copious singles, and generally been about as prolific as you can be while still retaining uniformly high quality. His latest record Bioluminescence was a career highlight that melded the electronic and the acoustic into warm, lithe pieces. Teen Daze makes serious music, at speed, in spades.
Interior is the latest full record from Teen Daze. (A collection of EPs called Reality Refreshes and some singles appeared between Bioluminescence and now, naturally.) It builds on previous Teen Daze successes by marshaling signature sounds toward a new goal. Instead of making big statements about the world, Interior makes dance music–even club music. “2 AM (Real Love) (feat. Cecile Believe)” is a fusion of Teen Daze’s favorite muted, warm sounds and Daft Punk vibes. The enthusiastic post-’80s vibes of “Nite Run” feel like some sort of mashup between Caribou and Maribou State. (That rhyming is completely unintentional.) If you’re in a certain type of hip club, the earthy/airy groove of “Nowhere” is going to be a major success. The insistently cheery “Swimming” is for all the people who wanted more of the bright-eyed techno of A World Away. If Death Cab once wrote You Can Play These Songs With Chords, Teen Daze has written You Can Dance These Songs With Feet.
Even if this album is intended to be more forward than high-concept, it’s not brash, theatrical EDM. (I, uh, do love that type of music too, though.) Opener “Last Time In This Place (feat. Joseph Shabason)” tricks the listener into thinking the album is going to be something else entirely: it’s an almost post-rock terrain composed of what sound like modular synth patterns and a saxophone solo exploring the landscape. The title track includes a long, subtle build: it takes three minutes for the title track to kick in the dance beat. Until then, the slow-mo arpeggiator fits into the crevices of an arrangement of fizzy static, jazzy mellotron-esque keys, and stuttering percussion. A warped/chopped vocal sample and a kick/hi-hat make the back half a full-on dance party, though. All of the aforementioned dance tracks are soft-edged with Teen Daze’s signature feathery synths. This is not generic dance music, it’s Teen Daze’s highly specific vision on dance music.
This tension between inward gaze and outward dance is explored on a large scale in the nine-minute “Translation.” The track begins with 2:20 of a looping, loping, cloudy synth pattern–almost mid-century minimalist in its repetition. Isaak slowly layers in more elements: a rubbery bass pattern, a four-on-the-floor kick, a delicately chiming guitar (?) riff, and more. There’s a moment of respite at 5:00, before things really get hopping: ’80s trumpet synths, chopped up talk-box vocals, and snare come barreling in to make this a full-on party-down. THEN a roaring sax solo appears, going on for over two minutes. The song does slowly fade out to a close, but overall the effect is of major club vibes.
Just in case you weren’t convinced of the goal of this record, the album closes with four club-friendly edits that cut out / refashion the slower, more intimate bits of four different tracks to enable immediate dance success. Even that can’t turn this into an Avicii album, but look: this is as close as we’re going to get to that from Teen Daze.
After so many albums of careful, thoughtful, big-statement work, it’s pretty cool to hear Isaak just let it rip for a while. Interior is a fun, exciting record of good vibes. This album isn’t trying to duplicate the career highlight Bioluminescence, but it’s also not ignoring that Isaak did make that record. It ultimately is a great way to close out the year. Happy New Year to everyone, from Teen Daze.