Take 5 Friday
In late 2009, a new style of indie-rock began to emerge combining elements of indie rock, 80’s synth-pop, and utilizing modern technology like samplers and sequencers to produce a lo-fi style dripped in nostalgia, while simultaneously exploring new and innovative song-writing methods. Dubbed “Chillwave” by the popular music and culture blog Hipster Runoff, music created by chillwave artists has gone on to become a stealthy influence on many electronic-oriented indie acts. The following five songs will provide an insight into the early conventions of the genre and how the influence of the chillwave sound has gone on to inspire and play contemporary to non-chillwave artists.
1. Memory Cassette – “Surfin’”
Memory Cassette, a temporary working moniker of Dayve Hawk (Currently of Memory Tapes fame) is one of the first acts to really champion the sound that eventually became known as chillwave. “Surfin’” was actually the first chillwave song I ever heard and at the time it was a serious breath of fresh air. All of the tell-tale traits of chillwave are there: the foggy vocals, the dreamy synthesizer lines, the fuzzy drum machine and general feeling that you’re not listening to a recording made in studio, rather made in somebody’s bedroom. While not the most successful chillwave artist, Memory Cassette is one of the definitive artists of the young genre.
2. Washed Out – “Feel It All Around”
If there was a go-to example of chillwave, one would not need to look any further than Washed Out’s “Feel It All Around”. If you’re a fan of the hit IFC series Portlandia, you’ve no doubt heard this song dozens of times as it serves as the show’s theme song. To be honest, I can’t think of a more appropriate song. While its coolness and freshness has faded through the years, when the track first came out it was nothing short of game-changing. If Memory Cassette was the template for the genre, Washed Out perfected the art. The track opens with a half-time Gary Low sample which gives way to a drum machine and Ernest Greene’s haunting (yet dreamy) voice, both drenched in reverb. The song gives a sense of drifting weightlessly through one’s memories as its production qualities are quite evocative of older musical aesthetics.
3. Neon Indian – “Should’ve Taken Acid With You”
While Memory Cassette and Washed Out laid the groundwork for the burgeoning genre, Neon Indian perhaps solidified the model. With this track all of the elements are there: time warped lo-fi sampling, muffled vocals, dreamy synth lines, and an old-school drum machine tying it all together. “Should’ve Taken Acid With You” is a sweet and sentimental track that truly epitomizes the heart-broken state so many chillwave artists seem to epitomize. Between the lo-fi textures, bath of Roland synthesizers, and tape-distorted drum machine, Neon Indian’s Alan Palomo creates a beautifully-trippy song that manages to convey part of the acid trip he wishes he would’ve taken.
4. Toro Y Moi – “Minors”
Chaz Bundick AKA Toro Y Moi is a Brooklyn-based producer. While his debut record Blessa was a little late to the chillwave party (by a matter of months, which is actually an eternity in the blogosphere) his down-tempo production and introspective lyrics propelled him to the heights of the chillwave community. While his more recent records are more funk and pop influenced, Blessa remains as a valuable document of the complete actualization of chillwave. “Minors” is a down-tempo chiller that hints at the more hi-fi sounds of more contemporary chillwave acts.
5. Wild Nothing – “Paradise”
Wild Nothing may not necessarily be a chillwave band, but their existence and success owes a lot to the musical space chillwave helped create. While it’s not chillwave, a lot of the same elements (haunting vocals, moody synths, 80’s-inspired production, and reverb drenched drums) are there. “Paradise” is one of the stand out tracks on Wild Nothing’s 2012 effort Nocturne. Front man and principal songwriter Jack Tatum is roughly the same age as his fellow chillwave contemporaries, yet “Paradise” and his other songs are seemingly less juvenile than songs like “Minors” or “Should’ve Taken Acid With You”. “Paradise” does a good job of bringing about similar aesthetic qualities while maintaining higher production values and utilizing different techniques (i.e. having a live band versus the DAW oriented songs by most chillwave artists). If anything, Wild Nothing represents both the end of the original chillwave movement but also the future that the pioneering genre has opened the door to.