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Tour of Duty: Telefon Tel Aviv

Telefon Tel Aviv hits the road with a purpose

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Telefon Tel Aviv

10 p.m. Sat., Sept. 19

One Eyed Jacks, 615 Toulouse St., 569-8361; www.oneeyedjacks.net

Tickets $12

Telefon Tel Aviv's Joshua Eustis (right) is taking the band on its - first extended U.S. tour since the death of bandmate Charles Cooper - (left).
  • Telefon Tel Aviv's Joshua Eustis (right) is taking the band on its first extended U.S. tour since the death of bandmate Charles Cooper (left).

There are understatements, and then there is Joshua Eustis' appraisal of 2009 thus far: "It's been a weird year," the Telefon Tel Aviv co-founder says, leaving Chicago with tourmate the Race. The two bands are bound for Ann Arbor, Mich., where Eustis' New Orleans-born electronica act is launching a 20-date tour, its first extended U.S. circuit since 2002. The itinerary includes the first Telefon gig here in five years. ("It's hard to get shows down there," Eustis says of his hometown.)

  It's a notable trip for another reason. On Jan. 22, two days after Telefone released its third LP,

Immolate Yourself (BPitch Control), Charles Cooper, also a New Orleanian and Eustis' longtime creative partner, was found dead on Chicago's Near Northwest Side. For months Eustis has grappled not only with the loss but also specious reports of suicide, which he has repeatedly and vehemently denied. (The Cook County medical examiner, found only alcohol and a sleep aid in Cooper's blood and ruled out suicide; multiple autopsy reports were inconclusive.)

  Then, in May, Telefon embarked on a tour in Europe, where the band maintains a strong fan base, and Eustis' father died. Suffice it to say, "weird" only skims the surface.

  "People have to realize, music is the side project," Eustis says. "It's not, 'What is your Telefon Tel Aviv side project?' Telefon Tel Aviv is the side project. My life is the main project, my family and friends. That all comes first, and it hasn't always come first. And that's unfortunate. I have a lot of regret about that. I would love to try to fix that from here forward."

  Eustis says this tour is entirely for Cooper's benefit: "That's the only reason I'm really doing it, because I feel like I owe it to him to see his final work through to the end."

  Their last album together proved to be a departure from the band's oeuvre, a previously chilly neutral ground between down-tempo club music and dreamy, ambient techno. Wielding two pieces of analog equipment — a tape recorder gifted by Marc Hellner and a vintage mixer purchased from Tortoise's John McEntire — Eustis and Cooper warmed things up, adding found sounds and embracing "malfunctions" like tape hiss and atonal synthesizer arrangements.

  Eustis is noncommittal about Telefon's future beyond this tour. An accomplished audio engineer, he's currently working with Brooklyn's Depreciation Guild (visiting One Eyed Jacks Sept. 26) and Berlin's Apparat. "I'm probably going to be doing a lot more of that in the year or two to come," he says. "I really like the science behind how music is recorded and preserved. I kind of think of myself as an archivist, where it's like, you're making this music permanent. You're etching it into something."

  That direction could itself be an homage to his fallen friend. In his last interview, with Remix magazine, Cooper echoed a similar sentiment: "I realized I liked making music more than writing, orchestrating or programming it."

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