Good Vibrations

You know what else grinds my gears? Fuzzy, lo-fi surf rock.

And as a sort of validation of my meanderings on yesterday, there’s this piece I stumbled upon on whilst searching Best Coast on Pitchfork. Though it’s focused on surf rock, and the Brian Wilson legacy; music that creates a yearning for Summer – perhaps at that same previously drizzly, windswept beach – it keeps the same sense when applied to Chillwave’s attempts to call to mind rainy landscapes as depicted in ‘blurry jpegs with faded colours’. Both genre’s are similiar in that sense and I reserve a similar dislike for what artists like Best Coast are doing with their ‘aesthetic’. It also touches on Neon Indian quite a bit through its druggy, melancholic style, so the link’s not as tenuous as you might think.

This passage seemed quite related to what I was saying yesterday, the bits I think are most relevant are in bold:

Looming large over all of this music this year is the specter of Brian Wilson. Which is not to say that any of this music sounds like the Beach Boys, or even tries to. When it does go in that direction, bad things start to happen, like this painful cover of “Girl Don’t Tell Me” by Vivian Girls. The Beach Boys exist in this music in an abstracted form– an idea, rather than a sound, as it’s often been. This is partly up to the fact that sounding like the Beach Boys is actually very difficult. You have to be able to sing on key, understand how harmonies work, and have the songwriting skill to get creative with structure and the arranging chops to take the music somewhere unexpected.

There just aren’t any short cuts to “I Get Around”. And if you only get part way there, you wind up as Explorer’s Club, a band that probably wouldn’t have made an impact this year even if they’d put out a record. Their version of the Beach Boys is too literal to catch on in this climate, as well as being too sober. The Brian Wilson that permeates indie today is the emotionally fragile dude with mental health problems who coped by taking drugs. Summertime now is about disorientation: “Should Have Taken Acid With You”; “The Sun Was High (And So Am I)”; You take the fantasy of his music– the cars, the sand, the surf– add a dollop of melancholy and a smudge of druggy haze, and you have some good music for being alone in a room with only a computer to keep you company.

* * *

When it came time this year to think of the albums of the decade I kept flashing back to the original cover of Fennesz’ Endless Summer: two images sit next to each other at an odd angle. One of them has bathers on the beach in silhouette standing in front of the sea, the other shows a distant sailboat heading toward the horizon. The horizontal lines on the shot with people are suggestive of a video monitor, even though the images have holes on their edges, which points toward film. So it’s like a video of a film of a memory that may or may not be based on any real experience. It’s not mean to evoke the physical sensation of standing on the beach, but the feeling that comes from experiencing media depicting the beach and wondering what it might be like to be there. And the music extends this essential idea in a hugely successful way. You listen to the Sandals’ “Theme From Endless Summer” (a wonderful tune that sounds uncannily like the also wonderful new band Real Estate) and then play Fennesz’ “Endless Summer” and you see what sort of beauty can be generated by the fuzz of memories and media being folded together, duplicated, sectioned off, blown up, and amplified. Copies of copies of copies start to turn into something original.

I’m not as optimistic as Richardson, I don’t think. It undoubtedly creates something original; something that’s often quite good – as with Washed Out and Chillwave I quite like Best Coast and fuzzy Surf Rock – but there’s still something about that insincere, mediated, second-hand experience that troubles me.

As I write this, Major Lazer has just come on stage at the Pitchfork Music Festival…

Edit: 20/07

Not going to do a third post on this subject, but I just remembered this video of ABC’s Amplifed feature, fronted by the heartbreakingly unassuming, and quite flirtatious newsreporter, Dan Harris.

Don’t want to try and deduce too much from it, but I found the bit about listening to Beach Boys, New York not being California as her muse and the outakes at the end where she admits she’s not that ‘into the ocean’ quite illuminating. Perhaps the copies of copies that I’m so awkward about are just a natural consequence of an age of cheap travel, the proliferation of recorded music and how easily accessible that music is.

MP3: Major Lazer – Pon De Floor

MP3: Best Coast – Something In The Way


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