Regarding Chillwave

In early 2009 a new music sub-genre started taking over the blogsphere. It was a new and old kind of music: think of ’80s synth-pop, married with shoegaze rock and dream-pop haze, filtered through a more electronic sound, and adding lots of reverb to the (usually) lackster vocals/lyrics. It’s the perfect relaxing somewhat-dancy summer music. Just chill. It’s made by youngsters (usually) in their bedroom, using a Macbook (well, usually). The internet is the main boosting medium for the genre, with most new such (usually) one-man bands releasing their albums on BandCamp for free.

It’s name is “chillwave”. The HipsterRunoff blog invented the genre’s name, after “glo-fi” and “hypnagogic pop” didn’t stick online.

I first became aware of it last Summer, but didn’t really like what I was hearing. I felt that it was ambient hipster drivel, drone noise. Unformulated, uncatchy, unintelligent, boring. I was dumbfounded that Pitchfork was covering these bands so much.

And then, last Fall, Neon Indian’s debut album arrived.

The main track on the album, “Deadbeat Summer”, stroke homerun with me. It immediately transported me back to when I was a kid in the late ’70s and early ’80s (7-8 years old), living in the town of Preveza. It immediately gave me that feeling that it’s so hot outside, that I need to hurry to the beach, where it’s usually crowded every day during summer. I’d run around at the beach, looking at the breast-naked female tourists lying in the sun, and not understanding what their deal is. I’d splash around, and be care-free. And if I was a good girl, I’d be treated with an ice cream on the way back home. Deadbeat Summer’s sonic vibes accurately described my psyche and frame of mind of that time. It was like my soul was lifted from my current body and was put back to that time, at the body of the young girl I was.

That was the exact time when I “got” chillwave.

For people to really connect with it they must have the right life experiences, usually hot summers and outdoors play that involve water in some way or another, or for others it works if they feel nostalgic about the care-free era of the ’80s. For my husband though, the genre doesn’t work. He doesn’t understand the atmosphere this music is trying to create. He finds the music underwhelming, “unremarkable” as he says in particular. Maybe growing up in colder France makes it difficult for him to understand and visualize the music, however, I feel confident that if he will give it a chance he will enjoy it too — as it has happened with other bands that originally he disliked but later became a fan.

Since chillwave got somewhat established in late 2009, there have been a number of pro- and con- articles in the blogosphere. Most indie blogs support the genre and have been the driving force behind the explosion in the genre’s popularity, but know-it-all old-style publications like the New York Times don’t get it, and had it dismissed. Of course, that NYTimes article is mostly rubbish, written by someone who doesn’t get the whole idea, however, this and some other “hating” articles do ring true on a couple of points:

1. Translating this kind of music live is nearly impossible. The whole point of the reverb effects and dreamy sound is so that the listener can sit on a couch, close his/her eyes, and make the song his/hers, based on his/her own experiences. Having the same effect on a venue, next to people who smoke weed, shout, and drink like sponges, is just not possible. A lot of the magic is lost in live performances. What is needed is for the bands that want to take these experiences on the stage to also have their own pre-programmed lighting gear, plus a big screen with care-free beach-related footage. Or something.

2. Someone said that this music is the product of the economic recession in the US. Made at home, with laptops, spending no money on them whatsoever. And their care-free sound tries to make the listener forget his financial problems. There might be some truth in this, but then again, maybe not.

3. Someone else said that chillwave hasn’t been mainstream yet because the “ultimate” chillwave album has not been released yet. That the genre is still evolving, and it’s still expecting of its own “Nirvana band” to popularize the genre to the mainstream.

Wild Nothing – “Confirmation

Personally, I believe that the best chillwave album released so far is Wild Nothing’s “Gemini” (May 2010). Some people classify the album as dream-pop and only borderline chillwave, but to me it sounds like dead-ringer chillwave (plus, the band’s label page describes their sound as all things chillwave). For me, it’s one of the best albums released this year, regardless of genre. Every single of the tracks in there is amazing. There are no fillers in that album.

Other popular chillwave bands apart Wild Nothing and Neon Indian are Delorean, Small Black, Toro Y Moi, Memory Tapes, Teen Daze, Millionyoung, and Washed Out. Bands that are borderline chillwave: The Radio Dept, Real Estate, Best Coast, and some tracks by Bear in Heaven. Grandfathers of chillwave can be named the Animal Collective, Ariel Pink, Beach House among a few others.

iTunes created a chillwave sub-section on their Electronic section recently. Are you riding the chill wave too?

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