Monday, January 18, 2010


Much talk surrounding the unfortunately-coined and excessively-hyped "glo-fi" or "chillwave" genre has to do with memory -- its proponents say the music brings them back to childhood -- listening to music on tape, playing 8-bit video games, humid summers, all remembered through the memory-altering haze of late teens and early 20s drug experimentation.

Those proponents (Pitchfork, et al) and even the opponents (Cokemachineglow, etc) often agree on one thing: albums by scene-leaders Neon Indian, Washed Out, etc stir a nostalgia for the idea of those memories more than the real thing. And here is where my confusion starts: these albums don't even remotely bring me back to those halcyon days. Other than the occasional 8-bit reference to a Nintendo game sound settling into the mix of warped synth, crunchy guitars and ethereal vocals, this music doesn't connect with me on any nostalgic level, and I assume that I had a pretty standard childhood experience, with cultural touchstones shared with the other brats close to my age and those a few years older. Neon Indian doesn't sound like an old cassette found in the street any more than any other electronic music does. Heavily processed electronic sounds always sound like the future to me, even if they are referencing the technology of the past. Perhaps this is because I wasn't listening to lo-fi, tape-only record labels in the 1st grade, but I have a hard time believing the other gen-y bloggers and music writers born in the early to mid '80s were either.
Curiously, the conscientiously post-modern music that connects with me best on a hazy-nostalgia-emotional-memory level is music that samples '70s and '80s television, like The Go! Team's 2005 masterpiece "Thunder, Lightning, Strike." The album is full of horns and strings found in soundtracks and theme songs for shows like "CHiPS" and "Charlies Angles" that were hits well before my time, but played repeatedly on WGN during Saturday afternoons, once the cartoons were over. "Thunder, Lightening, Strike" immediately conjured feelings of bright primary colors, "Sesame Street," the school bus, art class, aforementioned Saturday afternoons, tree houses, everything good from 20 years ago. But, again the album is likely more about the idea of those memories than the events themselves.

Sidenote: I actually enjoy Neon Indian's debut, "Psychic Chasms," despite the efforts of the hype-machine to ruin it. I'm just lost as to why I seem to be reacting to it in a completely different way than every review I've read.

Is anyone else not having the reaction to the glo-fi genre that the online-music press is wetting them selves over? Thoughts? What new music puts you in a nostalgic mood?


Lrae said...

i most often find myself floating on a different, assuming we can make the separation, musical wave length, yet I feel that my most recent discovery comes close to the sensations you speak of...

Tortoise - Beacons of Ancestorships

...I guess it has little to do with the genre or even the music for that matter, yes people are individuals and have different likes and don'ts, but simply the sensations....lived...or realized through the sounds, something that is common to all people. That is, a place where people can find each other. But is that asking to much? "Rap music sucks!" "No, COUNTRY SUCKS" turns into "That music you listen to is...ehh...but you smile, I like to smile while listening to music" "Want to dance?"
Does this unravel too much of our identity, bringing us to a place of discomfort? Or a sense of heightened awareness in which we see beyond the individual and to the people that we are?

Abby said...

That Go! Team album is one of my absolute favorities. I still listen to it when I go running.

I don't listen to newer music for the express purpose of nostalgia -- if I want to think back to the '80s/'90s, I'll just listen to music from those decades, specifically. That said, I've found that bands like Autolux, Les Savy Fav and Built to Spill make me think back to the '90s, especially (some for more obvious reasons than others).

I think Neon Indian just sucks. Lo-fi, etc. can be great with time and talent, and I don't sense much there.

Warped Coasters said...

"I don't listen to newer music for the express purpose of nostalgia -- if I want to think back to the '80s/'90s, I'll just listen to music from those decades, specifically."

I feel the same way, but what I'm talking about is more music that makes you feel nostalgic because of an abstract feeling or mood, not music that sounds specifically like music from another decade.

Warped Coasters said...

Earl — I've listened to and enjoyed the little bit of Tortoise that I've heard, do you recommend a good starting point?

Lrae said...

check that new album "Beacons of Ancestorships"
I don't know much about them really, this is my first conscious introduction. but it is a good one.

A Mixed Tape said...

I think this is where the "idea" part comes in, beacuse no one who listens to Neon Indian today was listening to something like it in 1980. I'm sure there was something like it back then, but just as it goes under the radar of the mass public today, it was most likely short lived back in the 80s.

I think all their talk and hype is more of trying to create this "ideal" past. Neon Indian sounds like what we would hope a tape from the 80s might sound like if we could travel back in time to find that tape. Or it sounds like what we would hope would be playing in a club, or what we would be listening to on our way to see Say Anything. And so forth.

To me it's all a bunch of ridiculous jibber jabber. This whole genre reminds me of something I did in elementary school. Did you ever make a "document", stain it with tea or something, and then burn the edges, so the paper looked like it was from the 1800s? We did, and to me this is what they are talking about. Washed Out, Neon Indian, Toro Y Moi, is working to capture the touchstones and pillars of decade's past, through clever production.

If their sounds are anyone's childhood, it may only be the artists themselves.

What I think is interesting is how many artists use things from the past and we don't ever hear quite so much about them and what they are doing. For example, Dr. Dog, all of their music borrows extremely heavily from the past, but jumps and skips from decade to decade. Also see M. Ward, though you do hear more aobut him than the latter.

I think Neon Indian and the others are simply getting all the hype because they are borrowing from the childhood that is ours, and playing in to what we hoped would be so cool when we got old enough to go out.

EVerything about these bands resonates with me, I love them, Pysichic Chasms was like number 5 on my list of best albums, Toro Y Moi will probably be my number 1 this year, and I am really saddened that I missed Washed Out last year. But they don't make me feel nostalgic, maybe a little cooler than I was before, but not nostalgic.

Abby said...

I guess Astro Coast would be a band falling under this heading I actually do enjoy some of. I see where it touches on emotional remnants from my past, but probably not to the extent the critics you referenced meant.

Abby said... which I mean Surfer Blood, as "Astro Coast" is the name of the album.

Warped Coasters said...

Abby - I heard "Swim" from Surfer Blood and liked it — giant Weezer guitars, etc, is the rest of the album good?

Mixed tape - Your grade school "document" analogy is perfect, haha. I agree with pretty much everything you said. Perhaps all this nostalgia from the critics about Neon Indian is just the result of music writers having to find something to say to fill up a 1000 word review.

Dr. Dog is great. It is funny how bands that borrow from whatever obscure genre is in vogue gets lots of love from critics, but bands that do a fantastic job of borrowing from the standards are taken for granted, or even worse.

M. Ward's "Post War" is one of my favorite albums and most listened to, of the decade.

A Mixed Tape said...

Oh yeah, I meant to mention that I don't buy in to the whole idea of a cassettte tape crap see my previously commented last paragraph), but I do understand where it is coming from.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Dog ratings by Pitchfork: 4.4, 5.5 and 5.5. The album I like the best, Easy Beat, got the worst score of all. This made me angry when I saw it last summer. Just thought this was an appropriate time to vent.

Abby said...

The rest of the Surfer Blood album is decent. There's a few standouts ("Swim" among them), and other moments, I guess. But I prefer it to most other bands in this genre... which your title aptly summarized.