At some point toward the beginning of her musical career, Björk was quoted in an interview saying, "I find it so amazing when people tell me that electronic music has not got soul, and they blame the computers... It's like, you couldn't blame the computer. If there's no soul in the music, it's because nobody put it there." Her point was an excellent defense of a once grossly misunderstood kind of songwriting, and it certainly bears revisiting in an era where creating music electronically is the easiest and most widespread method available. Instead of using the sentiment to justify computer-made music, however, use it to consider the fact that a potential lack of human soul looms over every synth preset, drum sample, and effects patch that Ableton Live, Reason, Logic, or some such DAW offers hopeful producers. Maybe now more than ever before, it would seem that, in addition to creating compelling song structures and unique sounds, it is the job of electronic artists to infuse a bit of themselves into their musical work in order to help combat the soullessness that computer programs can foster. Someone should've reminded Teen Daze of this before he made his first "proper" album, All of Us, Together.
Perhaps we should apologize, both to our readers and to the nameless Vancouver producer, as XLR8R was one of the first publications to prominently feature Teen Daze's tunes. Back in 2010, the artist seemed to be budding with potential, an assumption based on a fewdreamypopsongs that reminded us a bit of John Hughes movies, not to mention other artists who also reminded us of those '80s teen flicks. Eventually, the music became known as chillwave, and Teen Daze fit the genre all too easily. We watched as a producer who started out sounding like a young M83, or one of Jimmy Tamborello's many projects, lowered himself into a pit of reverb chambers, vague dancefloor references, and adolescent sentimentality. But people seemed to enjoy his concoction, which the Canadian tunesmith would slightly tweak from release to release, and we continued to keep our ear trained on his output. By the time All of Us, Together finally arrived, it'd be a stretch to say it was an anticipated release, but there was a certain amount of curiosity surrounding the record. And yet it didn't take long for any hope of hearing a promising new artist come into his own to be demolished.
Returning to the Björk quote, All of Us, Together is the kind of album that the early detractors of electronic music feared the most, a record which ultimately comes off like a robot poorly imitating human emotion. In that capacity, however, the music sounds perfectly fine. All of Teen Daze's washy synth pads are manicured with just the right filter, his straightforward beats are EQed into the best possible frequencies, his bass tones are soft and non-confrontational; everything is as ideally composed and well-arranged as it could be. Some might call it perfect, some might call it sterile, and others might call it unbearably boring. The formula approaches something worth returning to on tracks like "Cold Sand" and lead single "Brooklyn Sunburn," when Teen Daze seems to be writing songs that should feature a strong vocal performance but inexplicably don't. Even the muddled, unintelligible singing on "The Future" is a welcome sign of life in a stretch of otherwise impersonal, generic cuts of foggy electronica. At their best, All of Us, Together's songs sound like a flimsy replica of Gold Panda, Tycho, or The Field; at its worst, the album is the approximation of nine poignant Ableton Live demos, everything easy to understand and unquestionably in its 'right' place.
Consider Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, the first major album by M83, as the highest watermark of contemporary electronic pop music both made on a computer and made to sound like it was made on a computer. All of Us, Together actually shares many qualities with that contemporary classic: both records are largely instrumental, the albums' aesthetics are composed of familiar digital sounds, each release initially appealed to younger generations, they both aim to evoke a sense of longing and nostalgia in the listener, etc. So, then, how does Teen Daze's LP so drastically fail to resonate like M83's? For starters, All of Us, Together would be hard pressed to be less unique. Preset instrumentation and uninspired song structures notwithstanding, you could tack on just about any other blog-buzzing name—like, say, Washed Out, Blackbird Blackbird, or Houses—to these songs, and no one would second guess it. Teen Daze's album also has a distinct lack of scope, especially for one with such an all-encompassing title; he created 45 minutes of music with an arc about as flat as the screen it was composed on. Lastly, as opposed to the wild starts and stops, chaotic field recordings, and lengthy ambient lulls in Dead Cities, All of Us, Together takes absolutely no risks. There isn't one chord change, one sample, one beat, one timbre, or one song structure that hasn't been pre-approved by the Tumblr Consensus for Electronic Indie-Pop. This just might be the safest 'underground' electronic album released in 2012.
Let's cut Teen Daze a little slack, though. "The New Balearic" could be a pretty fun track to dance to under the right circumstances, namely an 18+ club night for kids who don't actually listen to dance music. It's easy to imagine songs like "Late" or "Hold" providing the soundtrack to a pivotal moment in the next Gossip Girl season finale. And the hard-hitting ambient techno of "Erbstück" will likely excite budding electronic-music fans who somehow missed The Field's From Here We Go Sublime and Gold Panda's Lucky Shiner. Sure, that sounds harsh, but those aren't exactly meant as quips, it's more to say that All of Us, Together will undoubtedly find the right audience, one which will enjoy its streamlined structure and saccharine sensibilities. But if you consider yourself a fan of challenging and exceptional tunes—with an ear for inherent grooves, raw musical expression, and, yes, soul—it's highly unlikely that you are a part of that audience.