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Tes Elations

Tes Elations

[Self-released; 2012]

By ; September 21, 2012 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

When you think about, the cello is a bit of a gawky instrument. Don’t get me wrong, it can make wonderful music – just listen to Peter Gregson’s Terminal for evidence of that – but there’s just something terribly gangly and uncool about it that keeps it from being an instrument you wouldn’t raise your eyebrow at if someone told you they played it in a band. Its younger siblings like the violin and viola are nifty, sprightly contraptions that fit into both solemn and joyous occasions while the cello’s older (and bigger) brother the double bass is also less socially awkward, even if it spend most of its time in jazz bars playing in 5/4 time. As sad as it is to say, the cello is the outcast in the string family, always trying to fit in (and bless, it really does try), but always being cast to the side. “Be quiet, cello!,” grumbles Big Double Bass, “Little Viola is about to say something magical.”

Thus, the cello is always something of interest when it attempts to find its way into the indie and/or pop world – a defining feature, even. L.A. quintet Tes Elations have that defining feature and aren’t afraid to flaunt it, nor even go all out; they’ve got not one, but two cello players in their band. And not only this, they churn out Eastern melodies and have roots in Ghanian drumming and Arabic orchestral work. Tes Elations not only have a lot going for them, they have plenty to sell themselves on.

But selling yourself on descriptions is only one half of the battle; what about the actual music? First impressions of Tes Elations are likely to be favourable from most audiences as they not only incorporate plenty of fast-paced polyrhythms and riffs together, but they also manage to come off as vaguely mystical. The opening track on their self-titled debut album focuses all the energy well and still manages to throw in a surprise: drums pound as guitars and cellos build up the music, all while lead singer Barrie Ross flusters herself. It’s all impressionable and likeable, but the curve comes with the actual chorus, which releases the tension, coming off as more of a come down than a climax. Nonetheless, it still finds a way into your head.

From there, and for the next few songs, things stay afloat: “Listen Up” impresses with its steel-drum guitar noises, electric and sporadic sounding string work, and its alluring Arabian riffs. “Water Song” sounds suitably liquid-y at times, which makes the quiet/loud call and response effective and “Haunting Reactions” has plenty of fast/slow moments to keep you entertained for much of its runtime. During “Haunting Reactions,” though, the album showcases the starts of its main problem: it all begins to sounds like the same energetic, cello-laden mush. Even when you give Tes Elations your full attention, it become easy to lose interest in; I look at the track titles and I’d honestly struggle to tell you a defining feature from most of them. Mystical, yes, but unfortunately not very deep.

Were it not for a thankful few, then the album would have been a hard slog. “Visceral” captures the description in its title, sounding almost carnal as the cellos streak along discordant notes and Ross tries out some welcome wordplay. The brash punk-guitar punch of “Do It Right” jolts you back into the picture, and though a bit cheesy, captures the band at their most lively. It also regains your consciousness, and subsequently, the following tracks sound that bit more interesting and entertaining. “One Night” tries out some guitar riffs that echo Nirvana’s “Lithium” while final track “Patience” tries to build an empire on some stately cello riffs.

Even with these better moments, though, the songs still slip into sounding indistinct. Don’t get me wrong, there plenty of nice sonic details present (the droopy swoops on “Enigma,” the feverish microphone hiss on “Alisha Flowers,” which, for a moment, makes it sound like they recorded the track in a rainforest) and Ross’ voice is a definite saviour here, wandering between forceful and twee while retaining plenty of texture throughout. Tes Elations might prick up your ears, but there’s not enough real tonal variety to keep you transfixed. On the plus side, though, the cellos don’t sound entirely awkward; a minor victory for the gawky instrument.


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