Silent Shout: Chillwave’s Second Wave, Plus New Tunes From Chairlift & Purity Ring
Silent Shout is our recurring roundup of the latest in alt-pop. It might not be music for the masses, but — to paraphrase *NSYNC — this might be pop.
Chillwave never got a fair shake. The blog-borne indie trend of the late aughts got a bad rap because it was easily produced (anyone with a laptop or a cheap keyboard could do it) and because it sounded nostalgic, I guess. Those same qualities are now celebrated in pop (have you read any E•MO•TION or 1989 reviews?), and they were the very same qualities that garnered contemporaries LCD Soundsystem and Jack White rave reviews.
Chillwave wasn’t even nostalgic for a real era. Those first records from the likes of Neon Indian, Toro Y Moi and Washed Out were like an imagined version of ’80s electro-pop, built on muddled vocals, smeary synth textures and blurry edges. It was revisionist history. So why were they scoffed at for reimagining the sounds of an era, while bands who were blatantly nostalgic for a real era were praised? You could easily argue that earnest homage is lamer than fictionalized nostalgia.
As polarizing and dismissed as the trend was initially, it has left a surprisingly big footprint, with all types of producers and subgenres utilizing the melty electronic textures, warm melodies and soft-impact grooves of chillwave. You can hear it in Ariel Rechtshaid and Dev Hynes’ vaguely retro, vaguely funky micro-pop productions, in blunted-out cloud rap beats (still very much a thing), in swirling alt-R&B. Current acts as diverse as Class Actress, Samantha Urbani, Seoul and Palmbomen II all have a tendency to dabble in that purposely chintzy ethereality.
That lasting influence of chillwave is the maligned trend’s dirtiest secret. And the fact that three of the subgenre’s OGs are still kicking out great music today, expanding on those original qualities, only strengthens that argument. It should be no surprise that in 2015, Neon Indian dropped the chillwave version of a Prince album and it gets BNM’d, Small Black’s digital shoegaze gets First Listened and Toro Y Moi’s Chaz Bundick is getting sampled on a new Puff Daddy joint.
It’s time to admit that for half a decade now, music has been getting swept up by the chillest of waves. There’s no stopping the currents of the ocean.
TALK ABOUT POP MUZIK
Chairlift — “Ch-Ching”
Caroline Polachek wrote and produced “No Angel” off Beyoncé, and now with Chairlift’s first new song since 2012, we get to hear how the brush with blockbuster pop rubbed off on her Brooklyn art-pop duo. With plenty of yelps, horns and chants littered throughout, there’s a hefty hip-hop feel to the whole thing. But all the moving parts in the jittery arrangement — including a tease of a grand middle eight — keep everything slightly disorienting.
White Hinterland — “Chill And Natural”
The dance-punk equivalent of the “cool girl” speech from Gone Girl, with synths as sharp as the protagonist’s blade (spoiler alert?).
SOPHIE — “Just Like We Never Said Goodbye”
With its chipmunk vocals and Kirby’s Dream Land synths, the latest Product track is more in line with the British producer’s saccharine injections like “Bipp” and “Lemonade.” But unlike those, “Goodbye” strings listeners along, only hinting at the vibrant digital wonderland ahead. There’s no percussion and no big release, and taken along with the robot-army-shutting-down foundation of “MSMSMSM,” perhaps it indicates SOPHIE is moving away from the uncanny valley and into the abyss.
Purity Ring — “begin again (HEALTH remix)”
Purity Ring didn’t exactly gravitate more toward MOR pop on their second album, but the middle of the road started shifting over to their once-empty lane. I mean that’s basically why I started this column, pop is just using weirder sounds now. But there’s still a distinction between alt and Top 40. No matter how many times Purity Ring and Taylor Swift are mentioned in the same discussion, only one of those acts is going to sanction a remix by HEALTH. The L.A. band (featured in our first edition of Silent Shout) unleashes their mecha-dinosaur stomps around the icy synth monument that is “begin again,” littering it with blown gaskets and rushes of steam and bolts.
MIAMIGO — “What I Want”
What I want is for music of this vintage to never vanish, ever. This is what INXS might’ve sounded like had Nick Jonas won that show to be their new singer. This is what E•MO•TION would sound like if she were two British dudes. What I want is for more people to hear this sharp-grooved, heart-exposing, swaggering New Wave simulacrum and finally admit that this is now a timeless sound —something nobody who lived through the ’80s or The Bravery ever would’ve guessed.