Tag Archives: chillwave

The Holydrug Couple – “Moonlust”

Getting back to at least moderately rock related music with The Holydrug Couple. Their album, “Moonlust,” places itself somewhere within the realm of chillwave on songs like “Dreamy,” or album opener “Atlantic Postcard,” while many other tracks take detours into a lot more psychedelic territory. The album is by an large an instrumental affair, and even when there are lyrics present they often aren’t the star of the show.

A track like “French Movie Theme,” appropriately, captures the spirit of Air with prominent bass guitar and ethereal guitar line backed by floating synth patches. A song like this is actually, in my opinion, more effective without vocals because it allows the guitars to really branch out into some interesting territory. It is like having a song with only a middle section, the part that continually builds until there is an exciting climax at the end.

By the time we get to “Submarine Gold” things have really taken a step further toward a more psychedelic sound with a bit more of an improvisatory feel; free form, more or less, with an extended guitar solo.

Off in the other direction we have “Concorde,” firmly planted in the chillwave category with the requisite hazy synths. While the synth is front and center for this one the bass is still just as present as it was in “French Movie Theme,” but the guitar is relocated to backing material, creating sparse echoes off in the distance out of the way of the bass and synth.

“Moonlust” is out this month on Sacred Bones records. The Holydrug Couple is also currently on tour, they are in Portland tonight at the Doug Fir and will be covering the rest of the West Coast and all through the country in the weeks to follow. They even have a show in Toronto and one in the UK, so keep an eye out.

The album is currently available from The Holydrug Couple bandcamp page here. On their bandcamp page you can also check out the video for their song “Dreamy.” The rest of their tour dates are below.

May 20
Doug Fir Lounge
Portland, OR

May 22
The Knockout
San Francisco, CA
May 23
Secret Location La
Los Angeles, CA
May 25
51 West
Tempe, AZ

Jun 02
Stone Fox
Nashville, TN

Jun 04
The Pinhook
Durham, NC

Jun 05
Strange Matter
Richmond, VA

Jun 07
Kung Fu Necktie
Philadelphia, PA

Jun 09
Great Scott
Allston, MA

Jun 12
Brooklyn, NY

Jun 13
Baby’s All Right
Brooklyn, NY

Jun 19
Lee’s Palace
Toronto, ON

Sep 25
Blade Factory at Camp & Furnace
Liverpool, UK

Stream: Dream Attics – “Unbend”

Chillwave dream pop from Milwaukee. Nick Tovarek and Shane English are Dream Attics, and they’ve released a fresh batch of songs to download directly from their bandcamp page.

Each of the songs covers the territory treaded by artists like Washed Out and Neon Indian with swirls of vintage synth sounds and vocals awash in reverb. Strong hooks abound throughout the brief entirety of “Unbend.” I think that the ~13 minute time span of the EP serves as a pretty good introduction to the band that at some points finds them reaching into slightly more rock territory with a few instances of guitar taking a bit of the forefront, with keyboard doubling. During those moments the mix really clears the way, and the washy, overall reverb-soaked sound dries up a bit making the guitar stand out a lot more in the texture than it already would just by virtue of being a guitar sound amongst synths. That part, however brief, does call to mind the sound of Joywave, a band from my hometown. It’s always nice to be able to make a hometown connection in any way that I can.

Head over to the Dream Attics soundcloud page and throw down some money to download the EP. You can also find them on Facebook.

Stream: Abram Shook – “Sun Marquee”

I find it really hard to believe that, according to last.fm, Abram Shook has fewer than 500 plays, with only 171 people (including myself) having scrobbled at least one of his tracks. His album “Sun Marquee” is full of laid back, sunny tunes that any listener would find impossible to resist. With his laid back delivery and lush production this is the kind of album that deserves to be in heavy rotation, and might even help to quell the depression that usually sets in this deep into the winter.

Saying that his delivery is laid back might be somewhat misleading, as his delivery isn’t anything less than earnest, but one can be earnest and delicate at the same time, can’t they? The delicate delivery, and the precision of the guitar line, not to mention the production on tracks like “Taken” bring to mind Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s sound-world. But in there, amongst the swirl of guitars and the hushed vocals is a bass-groove that eases its way to the fore with flashes of grooving virtuosity. Take “Hangover,” a song that is, at least instrumentally speaking, completely driven by the bass. While the guitar and voice work together to create layers of melody and harmony until they mix together in an ethereal wash of sound, the bass envelops that entire sound and takes the lead. And “Distance,” from above, is much the same way with an effortless bass-line taking hold, sounding like Nate Brenner (tUnE-yArDs) is laying it down.

Every single track opens up new possibilities. Following “Hangover” is “Coastal,” where we find Shook’s voice moving from Washed Out territory to that of Mark Bolan. The falsetto is the same, but the overall timbre, and the doubling, bring out some previously hidden, rougher, attributes.

Throughout “Sun Marquee” a jazz influence is right out front, and when you take the mastery of an instrument that is required for playing that repertoire, combine it with a little rock and chillwave production, then the resultant sound is pretty captivating to say the least. It’s a complex collage that is impossible to pinpoint exactly. With all the comparisons listed above, we can add that “Black Submarine” adds a little Dave Longstreth to the vocals, and even to the guitar playing, with playing that takes sudden dramatic and unexpected shifts like one would expect from Dirty Projectors.

“Sun Marquee” is out now via Western Vinyl as a CD or LP that includes a digital download. Check out the tracks above and click the links below to learn more.

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The year in review: Small Black – “Limits of Desire”

Small Black - "Limits of Desire"
Small Black – “Limits of Desire”

It makes me happy to know that the band with the ironic name that I thought was only going to have one good EP, a s/t 2010 release on Jagjaguwar, that I would listen to until I got sick of it (like that ever happens) managed to get a full length album out this year. It makes me even happier that “Limits of Desire” is an album that is definitely worth writing about, and finds the band exploring their sound and different musical directions within that sound.

Though initially lumped in with other chillwave (thanks, Hipster Runoff, for giving us that genre label before falling into complete irrelevance, bro) artists like Washed Out and Neon Indian, they are moving closer to electronic music similar in style to Starfucker. From the opening synth of “Free at Dawn,” to when the vocals enter on that track, it becomes clear that this is going to be a cleaner album, bereft of the grit that permeated large swaths of their previous EP. So call them synthpop, or call them chillwave, or forget the label altogether and just listen.

What comes through, beyond all the labeling, are songs that reach for status as electronic anthems replete with drum machine beats that are mixed clear and clean, right up front. And there is a fine line between chillwave and soft-rock, however, and some of the album is a bit fuzzy on which side of the line it is on. Without the grit and graininess of the EP some of the edge is lost. This is most notable on “Canoe,” its layer upon layer of galactic synth sounds taking over the entire track. Thankfully these moments of soft-rock-bordering are balanced with some buzzier synths.

Before we make a hasty decision to file “Limits of Desire” alongside Destroyer’s smooth-jazz-tastic “Kaputt” it should be noted that the melodies within these songs are something worth remembering. Small Black doesn’t stop at texture and timbre without delivering on a whole lot more.

You can check out their video for “No Stranger” below, and head over to their official site for more. “Limits of Desire” was released May 14th and is available from Jagjaguwar.

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Best of 2013: Washed Out – “Paracosm”

Washed Out - "Paracosm"
Washed Out – “Paracosm”

I guess I am about 5 years or more late to the party, but I just recently, maybe within the past month or so, started listening with intent to Neon Indian and Washed Out.

I missed the bus on Neon Indian the first time around for whatever reason. Who knows what phase I was in at that point that prevented me from paying attention to anything that was going on in the world around me. Let’s just blame Lightning Bolt. That was probably what I was listening to so much that prevented me from taking my friend’s advice and listening to Neon Indian.

But, actually, Neon Indian, is not the artist that I want to talk about right now, right now I am focusing on the release that Washed Out put out this year, Paracosm. It’s another album, like so many this year, that fell through the cracks for me and I’m only just now starting to give it the attention that it deserves. My only other experience with Washed Out is through hearing “Feel It All Around” about a million times (by the way, say what you will about the show Portlandia, they could have picked a more perfect song for the intro sequence. The way that the ambience makes complete sense to Portland’s grey and rainy atmosphere as pictured).

And that brings me to my main point, and that is the music of Washed Out (and Neon Indian, and Small Black etc. etc.) places a lot of focus on a visual aspect that runs parallel to the music. Sure, it’s called “chillwave,” and it’s good that this aesthetic has gotten a name pinned to it, it helps us to generalize a little bit, but I think that the music that fits the genre is more impressionist than anything.

The seamless construction, with synth sounds that smear the harmonies, preventing any harshness, or dry attack sounds. Everything on “Paracosm” seems to buff out all the harsh contrasts, swirls the colors together and then takes a few steps back, allowing the picture to slowly fade into focus. It’s music of great emotional depth and music of nostalgia, and it’s also music that depicts light and an aura, a landscape. It does this so well that somehow we are all able to pick up on it, and accept it.

More specifically, the songs on this album are a little bit more danceable than on (my only point of comparison right now) Neon Indian’s “Era Extraña.” Where they are both, in a sense, working toward the same aesthetic, Washed Out tends to, on “Paracosm,” tilt the scales a little more toward radio-friendly pop, or as close to it as chillwave will allow.

“All I know” plays elements against each other to great effect with its bouncing tempo and a soaring, yearning melody over the top, while the title track flutters into view, a bit more somber than some of the other tracks, vocals hiding a bit inside those blurred out colors. The addition of a slide guitar, awash in reverb and delay, is a nice added touch. Layers and layers of atmospherics continue to build, though never crowding the texture. Everything just floats out over top of everything else, there’s a sense of constant elevation that’s created; infinitely open and never claustrophobic, despite the dense fog of sound that grows and grows.

This album, and this music, is more about creating a picture than anything else out there. But that doesn’t preclude there from being great melodies and catchy pop hooks. That label that we are so ready to place on the music is merely a shroud that is draped over the form of the music. It’s the timbre that gives the music its defining characteristic, and I think the thing that I think most about when listening to this album is how good the songs would be if all of the atmospherics and aesthetic concerns were stripped away. I think that that is really the measure of an album, and it’s fair to say that had that happened with this album, it would stand up as a collection of great songs too.

I can’t help but hear “Mercy, Mercy Me” at the beginning of every phrase in the verse of “Great Escape.” And that’s a good comparison to leave you with, as it’s useful in summing up the sound that carries through the album from beginning to end. The soulfulness and attention to all the typical concerns of songwriting; creating a memorable melody, and a solid formal and harmonic structure, evoking a mood – all of those things are present here, and are what make the songs great. That extra layer of atmospherics are really what set them apart and keep me coming back again and again.