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Teebs - Ardour

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Artist: Teebs

Album: Ardour

Label: Brainfeeder

Review date: Oct. 19, 2010

Mtendere Mandowa started painting album covers a few years ago, a hobby that eventually led to making beats as Teebs. Originally from New York, Mandowa’s move to Southern California heavily informs his debut, Ardour. Western motifs like expansion and endless skies steer the bulk of these tracks, but remnants of his New York upbringing reveal themselves in the vital cracks in his production style.

According to Brainfeeder, the Southern California suburb of Chino Hills where he now lives is one of the safest places in America, and that falls right in line with the disarming nature of Ardour. There is nothing threatening about these 18 mostly instrumental tracks. Not a blip of negativity or sign of hostile intention, and hints at adversity register only by what is gained by living through it. Borne out of the mother culture, Teebs shares a tangential vibe with progenitors like the Native Tongues or Hieroglyphics, but the absence of a rapper here invites a more personal reading.

For just under an hour, Teebs sustains a vibrant mood of contemplative bliss, the only sense of tension coming between the airy arrangements and patches of plodding trunk rattle. It’s all that keeps a few of these tracks from floating away. Uncommonly bright for a beat record, Ardour is dosed equally with a lack of urgency, deep shades of hushed celebration and intricate programming. His idea of a “Burner” further muddies the line between the Brainfeeder camp and someone like Philip Jeck.

More direct than FlyLo and earthier than Lorn, Teebs’ sound is set on the present. He matches precisely offbeat flourishes with a delicate beauty. Tones gleam and drift like a river at daybreak, as drum patterns switch course or gradually stall. At times, the vivid designs win out. The shimmering piano and augmented applause on “Lakeshore Ave.” bring the cover of Keith Jarrett’s The Köln Concert to mind. “Bern Rhythm” rides out on a simple acoustic guitar figure. “King Bathtub” even encroaches on P.M. Dawn territory, and that’s not a bad thing considering Prince Be’s infamously choice record collection. Just as often, Teebs takes you out of step and into a different sort of comfort zone. His skewed sense of rhythm opposes Kool Herc’s initial intention, but still results in something to get lost in.

The only voice heard on the record belongs to Gaby Hernandez on “Long Distance,” her wistful charm fitting snugly between billowing, treated strings. The perception of looking outward, but staying down, recurs throughout. “Wind Loop” takes a Far Eastern twist toward Onra’s Chinoiseries, but the drums stay home, sounding almost like Buckwild’s from “I Got A Story To Tell.” “Arthur’s Birds” exemplifies the record’s central theme of ascension. Teebs gets his synthesizers to act like seagulls on “My Whole Life” and the soaring textures reach new altitudes. This is no street level shot; it’s a rooftop view.

Don’t call it a comeback for MC-less beat records. Blockhead’s The Music Scene, Lorn’s Nothing Else and Flying Lotus’ Cosmogramma, all released this year, are pretty much essential if you’re into this sort of thing. Add Ardour to that list.

By Jake O'Connell

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