ultimate satisfaction

My iTunes play count / Last.fm profile / personal music surveillance devices tell me that I have listened to Bear in Heaven's 'Lovesick Teenagers' 10 times, and their album Beast Rest Forth Mouth about 7 times, since I downloaded it barely three days ago. Little about the album is wearing off as I approach double digits, those towering, jarring choruses seem only higher. The music is soupy, swirling, brooding, a mixture of bedded-down indietronica synths, proggy, choppy guitars, whining boy banshee vocals and ingenious pop structures all clocking in at about 4 minutes - a list that looks completely fucking incongrous when you read it out but is also a list of everything I love and basically a list of things that this band somehow manages to perfectly melt together every single track. Like Home Video actually worked out how to not make things so creepy or Sunset Rubdown c.Random Spirit Lover gave up the circus. If you've bothered reading to this point, you'll realise - like I just did - that I have nothing witty or significant to say about this music. I just really fucking love it.

Props to Harvey, shout out to Pitchfork, bring on more GIF album covers!


waking up the ghosts

Sitting here deliriously at 5.30AM listening to Collarbone's 'Waiting for the Ghosts' from the Waiting for the Ghosts EP, having studied all night and deciding to just keep going. There's a bird that starts its chirping at around this time every morning, and it's shrill, distinctive cry - a one-two whistle followed up by three piercing stabs in rhythmic succession (if I was a musician I could tell you what key or something, but I ain't) - has strangely and sweetly matched up with the tempo of the song, adding some strange animal echo at the end of each bar of this swirling, man-made electronica. 'Your words run dry', repeats Marcus Whale, and the bird's coo echoes his sentiment as I sit here, numb, trying groggily to construct the last parts of the piece of writing that has consumed my entire fucking year in its hellish depths. It's a really strange moment amidst a haze of far shittier and quieter ones as of late, but just one of those times when you love music and nature and all the things that make a sound, even at such ungodly hours.

6AM UPDATE: A far more pleasant little twitterer has decided to soundtrack 'Weatherman' with its sing-song call. Goosebumps.


memory tapes and tapes

Listening to Washed Out's High Times at the moment, apparently it was released only on cassette tape, but inevitably it's made its way onto the Internet and onto my hard drive. The thing that strikes me about it - and I'm prone to assume that much of the current chillwave/glo-fi/hypnagogic pop stuff does similar things - is its playing around with 'audio patina'. Strictly, patina describes that great effect that comes when certain metals oxidise over time, and they get a fine coating of age. In other words, patina describes the unique effects of wear on substances due to time, their environment and history of use. Patina is the making visible of the temporal. It's all very zen and Romantic and nature-meets-culture kind of stuff, but most people only really think of it in terms of tangible things. The golden brown of aged mahogany, the crackling of paint on Australian weatherboard houses, and - if I may be so bold - that attractive, soft and tacky shine of an overused keyboard key.

But it's not just visual, patina, for our experience of music and sound in general often has a rich sense of the patinated, perhaps owing to the fact that recording media are inevitably objects in the world, subject to the physical vagaries of time and wear. Analogue media, to be sure, have a far more immediate sense of age than their digital counterparts, and I think part of the resurgence of tape and vinyl in music making and consuming has to do with this romantic idea of patina - these are formats that we know have lived.

Chillwave, to me, seems, in part, to be about surfacing the experience of sonic patina in the sheen of its sound. Not only do a great number of bands circling around this putative genre specifically reference cassette tapes, the 90s, and other such signifiers of time in their band names and song titles (and even their release strategies), but so too does the music itself have an overwhelming sense of being of a particular time. I'm not talking about the idealised thematic images of a particular era/childhood (beach, surf, weed, skating) which undoubtedly abound here, nor is it the reference to musical styles from a particular era (grunge, surf, 60s pop, punk), it's rather the evocation of the very electrosonic horizon of a certain past.

Washed Out, I mean, is evoking memories of the sound of childhood formats and media experiences. Take 'Clap Intro', whose looping piano sounds like it is coming off the back of some warped, beaten videocassette recording of an old Saturday morning cartoon, whose magnetic heads have stretched and defected from the incessant playback of juvenile fixation. Add to that a hazy admixture of other not quite so identifiable but highly visceral sounds from 'back then' and you get what Daniel Krow calls "warped nostalgia" or David Keenan, more intellectually, "hypnagogic pop" - music that reaches back to 80s (I'd also say 90s, but whatevs) mass culture and somnabulistically reimagines the memories.

I love this shit - most probably because it's the first mediatic genre I've come across that specifically aestheticises the dominant formats of my own youth. It just can't not be made by late Gen Ys that were growing up in the late 80s and 90s, people now in their 20s who lived their entertainment youth through walkmans, videotapes, and cassettes. By its very definition, this music is has a time-limit, it 'wears thin' quite literally, and I think that's something to embrace rather than premeditatively dismiss as just hype or "vaguely retro sound".

The question is, will Gen Zs be musing over tracks in ten years time that are full of the artefacts of digital encoding and compression?



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?