Teengirl Fantasy's Nick Weiss and Logan Takahashi seemed like they could go in just about any direction based on how effortlessly they blended electronic, Krautrock, and shoegaze elements into gorgeous impressionism on their debut album, 7AM. On Tracer, they choose to repeat themselves as little as possible, a brave and mostly successful move. Opting for a chilly palette owing to early-'90s techno, house, and R&B, Takahashi and Weiss sound restrained where they were previously lush and overflowing; "Orbit" makes this newfound frostiness and focus apparent from Tracer's start, while the tight, popping rhythms on "Inca" and "Timeline"'s gurgling bass and serene synth pads emphasize the album's retro-futurist slant. However, the love of textural play apparent on 7AM resurfaces on "Eternal," where synth flutes dart in and out between the track's four-on-the floor beat like a school of tiny fish through a coral reef, and on the fittingly named "Mist of Time," an interlude with vocals courtesy of Laurel Halo. Takahashi and Weiss made another interesting choice on Tracer by eschewing the use of any samples, a somewhat surprising decision given that one of their previous standouts, "Cheaters," cleverly sampled Love Committee's "Cheaters Never Win." Instead, the duo shows off its pop side with the help of guest vocalists such as Kelela, who delivers one of Tracer's highlights with the dramatic R&B stylings of "EFX"; Panda Bear, whose guest turn on "Pyjama" adds to its abstract trippiness; and most notably Romanthony, who makes "Do It" nearly as transporting as the track he's most famous for, Daft Punk's "One More Time" (and echoes the more ecstatic feel of 7AM as well). Toward the end of the album, Teengirl Fantasy balance Tracer's more cerebral approach with their emotive past: "End"'s dramatic pianos and arpeggiated synths have a hypnotic sense of depth, while "Vector Spray" is a welcome reminder of the duo's flair for complexly layered compositions and arrangements. A surprisingly compact album, Tracer covers a lot of musical ground in under 40 minutes, and on the whole it feels like a love letter to electronica's formative days (or like an album they might have sampled from in the past). It might be a little less striking than their debut, but it shows that at the very least, Takahashi and Weiss are even more versatile than previously imagined, and that they can do nearly as much with clarity and restraint as they did with hazy sensuality.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares