Wednesday, January 25, 2012

In Search of Chillwave

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Lately I've been feeling some tracks that apparently fall under this so-called "chillwave" genre. But I've also read that the scene surrounding it has already come and gone.

Two of the artists identified with the sound that I've been listening are Toro y Moi, and Washed Out.  However other acts such as Neon Indian and Twin Shadow are also associated with it.

Regarding Toro y Moi (real name Chaz Bundick),  I've actually had both of his records for a while now. In one fell iTunes purchasing swoop, I copped both his debut album Causers of This (released in early 2010) and 2011's Underneath the Pine based on something I read about him on Jay-Z Life+Times blog.  Dude is from Columbia, South Carolina....not the first place I think of as a hotbed for music.

Of the two records, I definitely liked Causers better.  I dug on the grooves, the influence of 80's synth sounds and its bugged out, quirky beats.  There was a certain "nerdiness" to the music, and something about that agreed with my ear.

Washed Out is name of the project spearheaded by Ernest Greene, a University of South Carolina grad by way of Perry, Georgia, who actually met and worked with Toro y Moi during their college days together.

You might recognize Washed Out's tune "Feel it All Around" from his 2009 EP Life of Leisure as the theme song to the hilarious "hipster-spoofing" sketch comedy series Portlandia on the IFC Network.

I copped his latest album Within and Without, mostly based on seeing it appear on several 2011 "Best of" lists.

The formula for Washed Out's sound: poppy synthesizer sounds, slow burning beats, and hazing, reverb-drenched vocals.

One thing that has drew me to investigate the chillwave scene were the similarities to 80s new wave and synth pop, and to the downtempo, trip hop style grooves that remind me of the stuff that came out in the mid to late 90s and early 2000s - Kruder & Dorfmeister, DJ DSL, Tosca, Peace Orchestra, the Rebirth of Cool series, etc. But the songs have a pop sensibility to them, and a touch of current indie flare, making it interesting to discerning music heads.

However, at the same time unfortunately, it also makes the music interesting to douchebags still looking for reasons to validate their so-called coolness.

But my questions remained: Why was the genre so shortlived? Are the same artists once associated with the sound now identified by a different genre, and if so, why? What are the origins of the term "chillwave?" - is it the product of savvy marketing or the ill-advised creation of music media influencers?

The Wall Street Journal featured this story on the genre that might shed some light.

I conclude that I like some of Toro y Moi's tracks from Causers, and not so much on Underneath the Pine.

And Washed Out's got some strong moments on the Life of Leisure EP and on the critically acclaimed Within and Without LP. But everything else I've heard from the genre to this point is not my idea of good music. Sounds like more of a "scene" rather than a strong, sustainable music movement. I guess the lack of genuine quality from the genre has led to it's early demise.

When it comes to chillwave, I would temper your expectations.

So here's my homework assignment for you, folks: If you have expertise in the chillwave genre, let your knowlegde and opinions be known!

Leave a comment in the box below with recommendations. Or if you think the whole chillwave scene is a bunch of contrived BS, tell us that as well!



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