Saturday, July 28, 2012

The many names of '80s Homage Music

A critique that the Chillwave term is too broad, or too confining for artists feels similar to debates about what is/isn't Witchhouse. I defer to the saying coined by the supreme court: "I'll know it when I see it".

This genre is really hard to pin down, and it's probably better for it. North American & European pop music, video game and movie soundtracks from the 1970's and 1980's all appears filtered through memory, and into this 'genre'. A single track that carries with it a chill, '80s vibe could be called one of many different names: synthwave, dreamwave, outrun, nu-disco, synthpop, retrowave, 80s revival, etc. - and honestly, with the exception of 'outrun', it's in the ear of the beholder. Genres are useful tags to help people find similar sounding music, but it's best not to get too hung up on what goes where.

Regardless, each artists offer something different than actual 80's pop or straight-up homages to italio disco/space synth. Listen for yourself, and track down more by the artists you like.

Power Glove - Nightforce

The Outrunners - Diamond

What many people think of as '80's synth is a byproduct of the hardware used in in that era by musicians. The strong, unfiltered synthesizers (Korgs, Rolands, etc.) once had significant limitations, including but not limited to: how many bars of music could be programmed/looped, lack of filters outside analogue studio equipment, etc. Newer artists recapturing/emulating that sound take it in interesting new directions though, as many work without the hardware limitations, thanks to newer equipment, or editing software workarounds.

Com Truise is another of my favorite synth-heavy, vintage computer sounding artists. Just about everything the guy touches is steeped with a catchy, vintage sound.

Check him out on Soundcloud:

Or his blog/site:

Com Truise - Polyhurt

Com Truise - Brokendate

Com Truise - VHS Sex

Com Truise's also does some excellent remixes. Neon Indian's original track Sleep Paralysist is good, but the dual remixes Com Truise produced take it to a different level.

Neon Indian - Sleep Paralysist (Com Truise 'Eyelid' Remix)

Neon Indian - Sleep Paralysist (Com Truise 'Disorder' Remix)

While College's live performance sound like looped 80's house music, it's another nu-disco outfit with an 80's synth sound that's produced some catchy tracks. I saw this solo act perform live in Toronto recently while on tour with Anoraak, and both put on a good show. It's little wonder they produce great collaborative tracks like Fantasy Park:

College - Fantasy Park (Feat. Anoraak)

College - Amira

College - Desire

Glo-Fi / Chillwave

When you set aside the distilled, almost sterile '80's synth sound, you get more into a slower, hazy and reflective territory sometimes labaled as "Glo-Fi" or "Chillwave".

The artist who performs as Washed Out clarified what his music sound like in an interview with AdultSwim"It's like dance music made by people who grew up never listening to dance music." That's an idea I feel applies to most glofi/chillwave styled music.

Washed Out - Feel it all around

Washed Out - Eyes Be Closed

Casa Del Mirto is another artist I came across that captures that hazy, reflective sound, but keeps it from falling down the rabbit hole of memory with a good beat. It also has a nice tropical flavor.

I found these tracks/albums particularly good:

Casa Del Mirto - The Ease

Pepepiano's whole album is also worth checking out:

Pepepiano - Babes

Occasionally, Glo-Fi artists use of sampling audio-cues from old TV/Movies/Radio references even earlier eras than the 80's. For example, take the fascinating artist Belbury Poly found on the 'Ghostbox' label.

Belbury Poly - Summer Round

Belbury Poly - The hidden door

Nu-Disco & 80's Revival SynthPop Music

Much of the modern 80's synthpop I've found online (via YouTube, SoundCloud, and Tracasseur's Music Blog) borders on pastiche, but in a nice way. Artists often takes vintage soundtrack musical cues/chord structures and creates something completely new, but ultimately familiar. It's where the concept of Saudade comes in - it reminds us of a time that we want to go back to - but in truth, perhaps never existed how we remember it. I'm sure there were bars that looked/sounded like Tech Noir in the 1980s, but for a generation like myself that grew up in the early '90s (being born in '84), all I ever had were video and images to show me what the recent past was; it's shape, color, and character.

I'm happy to find many of these artists strike a similar chord. If you've found this post, and haven't yet heard of these songs, I hope they do for you as well.

The problem with genre names, is that they're often too general. I've noticed the term 'chillwave', labeled on many chill-sounding modern newwave-sounding bands, or songs. While some remixes, or particular tracks certainly have that feel - others simply feel like 80's pop music from an alternate universe.

For the sake of my own iPod playlists, I group things based on a few factors - your mileage may vary.
  • If there's clear, undistored vocals, and the songs follow a pop-structure with clear chording? Synthpop. Much of the new 80's sound has a French-electro/Nu-disco vibe to it, particularly remixes by Fear of Tigers.
  • However, other chill-sounding tracks that have increased distortion, or a haziness to their sound or vocals I like to group as "Glo-fi". 
  • Likewise, a heavy emphasis on synthesizers and sequencing (with minimal-to-no vocals) feels better suited as synthwave (without vocals), or synthpop (with vocals). Again, things are hard to nail down, but just about any of the above mix well with the rest. 
First up is Anoraak, (An-o-rak), a band based in France, which I can only assume drew it's name from this (English) slang term. A few of their tracks are downloadable here.

Their original songs are good, and have particularly clear, pleasant vocals. Anoraak's most popular track, Night Drive is great, and I enjoyed Cloud Rain Love as well. Where their songs really shine though, is when remixed in a dancy, Nu-disco style.

Anoraak - Night Drive (Fear of Tigers Remix)

Anoraak - Night Drive (Grum Remix)

Anoraak also has some very good remixes of their own. It's worthwhile browsing around YouTube or Tracasseur's Music Blog to track down other stuff they've been involved with.

Neon Indian - Psychic Chasms (Anoraak Remix)

Also in the pop-ish / catchy hook territory, are bands like Electric Youth. Their recognition recently comes from providing the vocals to a collaborative track with College for the excellent Ryan Gosling film, 'Drive'.

I was lucky enough to see both the band perform live in Toronto, including a rendition of the song "A Real Hero". While the venue's sound was less that amazing, both artists skill shone through.

College & Electric Youth - A Real Hero (Drive Original Movie Soundtrack)

Electric Youth - Right Back To You

Neon Indian is another interesting band. From what I've seen, the artist seems a bit irritated that people dare label his music anything, including 'chillwave'. His blend of synth, fuzzy vocals, and pop hooks is hard to pigon-hole, but his music still sounds great when paired with other modern synthwave / synthpop artists.

Neon Indian - Halogen (I Could Be A Shadow)

Neon Indian - Polish Girl

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Chillwave: Weird Tapes

The only music artist online that I'll consistently check for newly posted tracks is "Weird Tapes", and the his side project, "Memory Cassette".

As one blogger put it:

Feel like I might call it 'chill wave' music in the future. Feels like 'chill wave' is dominated by 'thick/chill synths' while conceptual core is still trying to 'use real instruments/sound like it was recorded in nature.' Feel like chillwave is supposed to sound like something that was playing in the background of 'an old VHS cassette that u found in ur attic from the late 80s/early 90s.'
Is it possible to be nostalgic for memories that aren't your own? This occurred to me while listening to music associated with 'chillwave' artists like Memory Tapes recently.

Something about this artist (and perhaps the genre) strikes a chord in me. Listening to any tracks reminds me of memories I never had - a feeling that I've combined childhood perception with actual memories I had as a kid watching TV, or wandering around outside.

Listening to Weird Tapes/Memory Cassette/Memory Tapes as an adult bring about an intersection between the events of my childhood, and the mood/feelings I had during specific moments. It's hard to put into words, but I think that's why this music is such magic.

Also check out Weird Tapes earlier band, "Hail Social" - far more alt. rock, but you can see the beginnings of his style in many tracks.

Be sure to dig through the Weird Tapes blog archive. 80% of his music is free to download, with the exception of some full EPs, which are available through iTunes, etc.

A good place to start is with a mixtape of his called "Walk me home". It's a combination of a few of his tracks, an expertly mixed .mp3 of your memories. :)

Update: I came across an interesting interview with the artist (Dayve Hawk) at Sterogum.