In search of sincerity

Obviously I’ve got a lot of time on my hands to over listen to certain music, it being Summer and all, but I can’t think of a genre of music I appreciate less than Chillwave at the moment.

It’s not so much an objection to ‘chill’ synths, disembodied vocals or the consciously aged, retro production. It’s not even the over-proliferation of the stuff on every other blog. I just find the script that it seems to be reading from limiting and insincere at best, ironic at worst.

More than any genre I can immediately (like, just now as I’m writing this) think of, Chillwave tries to capture a place and time; namely, a drizzly, windswept beach in the 80s/early 90s and beyond recycling musical cues – which it does with its bedroom production – it swallows signifiers to add to how ‘authentic’ its sound is, as Carles would put it. The problem with it being that it does this through media already made about the time. The description on of Chillwave intending to evoke feelings that you would get from playing GTA Vice City seems dead on. It’s a second-hand emotion, it exaggerates the mood of the late 80s/early 90s into a neatly digested piece of kitsch. An entire decade and a half distorted through the lens of some artist who was a kid for most of it for kids whose first conscious memories involve Pokemon rather than Transformers. Hey kids! This was the 80s! There’s something disingenuous, slighting unsettling about it. Don’t get me wrong, I like the music, but still…

Take the drizzly, windswept beach example. It seems to me that Chillwave isn’t trying to capture that beach, it’s trying to capture a movie – definitely a fuzzy VHS tape – of someone walking along that beach, presumably during a soul-searching montage in some sub-Miami Vice TV series to which the song made would also be the soundtrack to the scene it’s trying to evoke. Endless layers of meta-irony and referentiality.

Imagine Titus Andronicus, in trying to capture the grandeur of their sweeping American Civil War metaphor, using period music as interpreted through Cold Mountain or some other mediated, condensed 90-minute interpretation of a four year event and a musical period that could have lasted decades. You’d think them taking the piss. That’s not to say that The Monitor isn’t without its knowingness or referentiality, the ‘Ken Burns’ type recordings of Lincoln speeches have a playful quality to them where they could easily indulge in Shakespearian solemnity and the Springsteen influences and lyrics are abundant, but this isn’t 1864 in 2010 via a 2003 interpretation. They’re playing rock music. The sweaty springsteenian element screams America and is suited to the content, but it’s not trying to be America 1864 in anything beyond its occasional lyrical references and musical flourishes.

As it is, The Monitor is a remarkable album not only because of its quality but because it’s swimming against the tide. I mean, they just closed their Pitchfork festival set with a suggestion to check out your local public library if you’ve any interest in American history. Whilst at the other end of the scale, the explosion of Chillwave on blogs like gorillavsbear and their imitators just feels like the ironic detachment of hipsterdom going up its own ass and saying nothing. [via. 1989]

MP3: A More Perfect Union – Titus Andronicus

MP3: Get Up – Washed Out


One response to “In search of sincerity

  1. Pingback: Good Vibrations «

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