Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Car-crash pop: Chillwave is serious business (sort of)

In a recent post, I mentioned what I find to be the compulsive-yet-repellent character of the hypnagogic-chill-fi-whatevs-scene, with reference to Hype Williams. Annoyingly, someone from the insanely high-quality Fact mag just wrote a bunch of stuff about HW that congealed many of my thoughts about the band into half a sentence and then went on to say something far more interesting.

Anyway, a couple of other quotes I CTRL-Ced lately have helped me to articulate just what it is about these bands that makes me feel - well, not exactly compelled or repelled, but somehow uneasy.

The first comes from the esteemed yet divisive Simon Reynolds, who wrote a piece for the Village Voice called 'Leave Chillwave Alone'. The title is misleading 'cos it's essentially Reynolds hatin' hard on chillwave for 500 words. But hey:

In "Hardcore Pops Are Fun," from 2006's House Arrest, Ariel Pink provided a kind of hymn/manifesto for this generation's ahistorical omnivorousness: "Pop music is free/For you and me . . . Pop music is wine/It tastes so divine." But he still had a foot in '90s irony ("Hardcore Pops" was actually recorded in 2001). Archness gets burned off completely in the music of those that came after him, replaced by an earnestness that aspires to spirituality.

Reynolds has picked up on the surprisingly irony-free take on New Age sounds, 80s MOR and AM radio drivel we've been hearing over the past couple of years, largely produced by timewarped dudes in stonewash denim.

Where Ariel Pink's music is ironic and arch (often annoying attributes in themselves), his numerous musical disciples have dropped the humour in favour of a more ambiguous attitude, one that's impossible to read: not joking, yet not serious.

Reynolds goes on:

Earnestness is one of the defining attributes of "digimodernist" culture identified by the theorist Alan Kirby—other hallmarks are "onwardness" and "endlessness." On Altered Zones and its constellation of blogs, the flow is relentless: What matters is always the next new name, the latest micro-genre, another MP3 or MediaFire. Artist careers likewise are a continuous drip-drip-drip of releases, a dozen or more per year—there's no reason to edit or hold back, every reason to keep one's name out there.

He points out that where Pitchfork is firmly rooted in a pre-internet conception of music and its industry accoutrements (live shows, albums, reviews and criticism), its sister site Altered Zones is run by a mostly younger generation of bloggers, who tend to see tracks as a steady flow of 3-minute experiences: on and on and on.

Reviews are irrelevant; the critic's job of assessing and archiving is hopelessly out-of-date. Songs are almost impossible to own or play physically (often existing only on cassette or VHS) and disseminated indiscriminately through the infinite reproducers of copy>paste and rightclick>saveas.

Chillwave sounds like the past, but exists only in the present. And when the track ends, it belongs to the past too, making way for the next track from the future. Onward, endless.

Back to that earnestness that aspires to spirituality:

"This reality is twisted, but for me it's really fascinating because seeing past the deranged hypnosis, or merging with it, can also represent our human potential," the experimental musician and hypnagogic hero, James Ferraro, told [David] Keenan [of the Wire magazine] back in 2009. "So it inspires me in that way. KFC, TV et cetera are perfect examples of dark energy temples that alter people's reality in a psychotic way, but it also shows the power of dreams and it is a testament of our ability to plug into our dreams and experience them on Earth."

KFC as a dark energy temple? Personally, feeling lost somewhere in between the P4K and AZ mentalities, my natural assumption is that Ferraro is just dicking around, talking pseudo-spiritual rubbish for the lulz. But I think the truth is he doesn't know - or care - either way. Earnest or ironic, lulz or serious business, the chillwave attitude encompasses everything and nothing.

Tim Burrows from The Quietus goes on:

The attempt to suggest that KFC – an admittedly necessary purchase at various kinds of time-poor/inebriated/frivolous states – has some kind of new age, transformative significance sums up the scene quite well. There is a refusal to look beyond what has been already experienced, a kind of kick back and ignore attitude that, if anything, does not make it unique. It makes it our cultural norm.

I don't have anything against chillwave. I like a lot of it. But as I said, it repels as much it compels me. Car crash pop. Slow motion car-crash pop. Abject slo-mo car-crash pop.

Here's a great video...

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