Over at Under the Rostrum, Shaun has pithily dismissed the modern (Internet) music critic's fetish for coining pseudogenres, like the portmanteaus of two prior existing ones (nu-gaze) or additions of adjectival prefixes to a genre: freak-folk, bloghouse and, Shaun's target, chillwave. It's great stuff, and I have to say I mainly agree with him, especially the part about how coining these genres is so often "the death knell of a dying artificial movement" - as Anwyn once mentioned to me, it's precisely because there are so many people detailing every incremental little move in indie music that the genre is so turgid, not getting a chance to properly evolve itself.

But then, again, I wonder if the obverse move - which Shaun kind of points to but doesn't necessarily partake in - is just as much of a tendency in music writing as the one of ceaselessly coining pseudogenres? i.e., the "I'm above / this music is above pigeonholing" thing is itself a kind of snooty music writer stance and/or a kind of shortsighted 'this music is unclassifiable' Romanticism, which I'd argue is difficult on a few levels - Shaun and others, please take umbrage if you feel like it.

Firstly, when does the music ever speak for itself? Isn't the very definition of the musical something that can't describe itself? And doesn't everything we hear already come through some preexisting filter, be it personal taste, peer group, social status, etc., through to more structural things like economic and social processes? For example, even my very selection of Washed Out's High Times (another chillwave contender) to download last time I visited an MP3 blog is because I'm already contained within a particular personal and social milieu which says indie music is worthwhile, because I was looking for something a bit calmer to listen to whilst I studied and the tags on it said 'Lo-Fi' and 'Synth-Pop', and then even because I'm a middle class kid with access to broadband and the affectation of having a 'personal' taste that defines me through my pseudo-consumptive practices. I'll stop there, but the point is that I don't really think, sorry Shaun, that the music can ever just write itself onto our imaginations, free of some greater context. Genre is just one of these contexts, just more visibly codified.

Second, isn't the role of critics precisely to describe and contextualise a given bit or bunch of music? I think we can't help but acknowledge that criticism will always constrain and frame music in a particular way, it's just more how we go about doing it that is the question.

And to that, I guess if you said that this shitty genre coining is probably not a great way of doing this framing you're probably right, but in another way I kind of see something playful and kind of democratic about it. Clearly the writers using these terms don't actually think they are consecrating entire genres in the traditional sense - as an entire, definable class and movement of music with its own conventions, rules, styles and adherents - and if they do then they need to have a good look at themselves. Instead, I think genre here just becomes a kind of analogy for describing the sound and style of a band - chillwave, for instance, is a fun way to describe some kind of gauzy, lost in time melange of synths, samples and effects, that all sounds like its playing from a fifth generation videotape dub - which is helpful for listeners and often has a pithy and evocative kind of resonance when the right terms are put together. And to the extent these sub(sub)genres are outside of far more monolithic and determining terms like 'indie', 'rock', 'hip hop' and so on, I think there's more room to move here.

In the end, too, I guess these throwaway pegs also become their own litmus tests for a band's sticking power - if they can transcend their putative handle, then they're good enough to keep going. All the other ones that die as quickly as labels like bloghouse, chillwave and so on are as ephemeral as the label itself - necessarily 'of their time' - and neither do I really think that's a bad thing. Indie has become pop in that way, and why not?

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