This is much more of a spacey/fantasy synth-pop vibe than the last few releases, mostly inspired by a Professor Genius binge I had the night of composing. I can’t say this was my stylistic focus lately but I thought the result was worth sharing.
synth pop / indie electronic / dream pop
More like this – Hello Seahorse!’s Lejos. No tan lejos., Reni Jusis’ “Motyle”, Goldfrapp’s Black Cherry, Rajie’s Espresso
Denise Gutiérrez’s voice makes this band stand out, mixing rich velvet-like lows with powerful falsetto choruses in each song. Their synths come in many colors but the vivid, reflective atmosphere they create is a perfect fit. Synth pop is my closest guess here, but maybe not the kind you expect. This is more of a modern cocktail party in slow-motion with moonlight peeking in from the balcony.
Sadly, synth pop keeps falling victim to cliches these past few years, leading HS to use the same old 808 beats. Beyond that, I think their ears for melody are getting a lot tighter here. This is a great kick-off for the new year’s music if you’re obsessed with synth pop and/or dreamy falsettos like I am.
In the early tens, DIY artists like Toro showed me you don’t need endless synth rigs to make creative electronic music, and that the best inspiration can and will come from the solitude of home. He helped kick off a chillwave take-over that inspired many artists to come, whether or not ‘died’ within a year like countless articles claim, but it doesn’t end there. For one thing, Toro came early to the trend of seeking the 80s funk vaults for inspiration and gleaning the weirdness out of them. Without vocals, “You Hid” could pass as vaporwave. I begin to lose count with the motifs Causers Of This mirrored, if not pioneered, and this was the decade’s first month. Hypnagogic pop, future funk, our latest nu-disco crop, lo-fi house, synthwave, Carly Rae, alt R&B’s groovier corners. I won’t say he invented all this, of course, but it’s hard to deny he helped shape the decade’s indie electronic music. As his most hyped, ambitious electronic album, Causers represents these many facets best.
That electro-funk attitude became a staple for Toro, but in this case? Imagine french house doused in the ocean and ascended to space. He achieves this through hypnotic EDM pulses and murky synth ambience. His interest in glitches and grandiose samples distinguish it further, nodding to Brainfeeder shortly before Cosmogramma blew up. It was this taste for surrealism and natural variety that set Toro apart from other chillwavers. He defined a new genre while expanding it’s formula.
Like the best ‘bedroom’ e-music, Causers immerses you in the artist’s musical psyche, taking even a shy persona like Toro’s beyond it’s size. With it’s mutant synth licks making way for a disco fanfare, “Lissoms” suggests he brought an inner clash between earworms to reality, and it makes sense as a song. Each sound manages to blur into this delirious, weirdly calming vortex. Like the ocean itself, it flows along at differing speeds, one element to the next, coming and going. These changes feel instinctual rather than random. I’m not sure I know any other chillwave so in-touch with the ocean. When this is an arguable goal for the whole genre, that’s saying something.
With most songs fading to the next, Causers can sound more like a suite or spontaneous DJ session, making more abstract tracks like “Freak Love” work better in album context. Even so, a finale as joyous and straightforward as “Low Shoulder” shows Toro was already developing an ear for elaborate hooks. The title track loses some punch through it’s odd shape, but each riff has an authentic funk edge too much chillwave lacks.
In this ‘vortex’, Toro’s everyday sentiments will distort however he wants them to, yet staying in excellent sync with the music. Many lyrics resemble scraps from a letter to a friend with the odd metaphor mixed in (’Turn those fans away from me, they only dry my eyes out / Ever since I was born I couldn’t see’). ‘Sorry I couldn’t name the color of your eyes’, he mutters on “Fax Shadow”, proceeding to loop and obscure it as a sample yells ‘BABY!!!’ to the beat. What began a plain, if odd, apology becomes a broken rerun, where that old song he was playing last night got stuck.
As he begins on “Blessa”: ‘Come home in the summer / Live the life that you miss / It’s alright / I’ll fill you in / don’t you wait / for me to call your name again’. This wouldn’t surprise me over an indie rock sound, but the way he drenches it in filters and tops it off with his most angelic falsetto adds a whole new dimension. It’s like a hug from under a swimming pool. Despite his reference to trying hard with a job he doesn’t favor, or feeling reluctant to ‘let you in’, “Blessa” could make a great lullaby. It captures chillwave’s bittersweet nostalgia like few others.
COT is a testament to the potential solo artists can unleash with our growing access to music software. With a single app and enough dedication, you can create a world in your head, even from disparate interests. If you’re lucky, you’ll set the tone for an era. At this point I’m wishing chillwave wasn’t such bait for jokes; maybe then, influential albums like these would get the respect they deserve.
ethereal wave / dream pop / synth pop
More like this – Molly Nilsson’s “The Lonely” + “Wounds Itch When They Heal”, John Maus’ “Tenebrae”, Grimes’ Halfaxa, Anna Von Hausswolfe, Ioanna Gika
Imagine swimming in a cathedral with those windows. They’re the only light source, so you have these brilliant colors flashing through the dark. You hear a familiar song from the other room that brings up memories you haven’t thought of in years. That’s this album.
Pat Moon shows an excellent understanding of ethereal wave’s potential, and this is her debut. She brings all the romantic soul-searching this genre needs while giving it a promising synth makeover. From the first seconds she submerges her voice in murky pads that perfectly capture the ocean’s depths. The harmonies she builds are so fluid they could melt.
I can detect the confines of a keyboard-based home project, but the sound and scenes are big. She’s walking alone in the moors, she’s drifting along the river. Completing this imagery is a synth-organ echoing hallways and chambers from centuries past. This is the kind of isolated surrealism that gives the best ‘bedroom’ music it’s unique appeal.
I love how she titled this Don’t Hide From The Light. It’s gothic for sure, but more grey than black. This isn’t all-swallowing doom, it’s longing and unleashing emotions with a bit of hope. She writes on the Bandcamp page: ‘thank you kyle for helping me get here and reminding me that I could do this during those times I didn’t think I could’. She’s emerging from her shell and this translates really well to the songs.
See also – “Medieval Spells” from Romantic Era
As I said in my favorite albums list, this year had many, many albums that almost did the trick for me but just missed, so having this playlist is a nice way of giving these releases their deserved acknowledgement. This is VERY long so please skim and rule songs out to your liking. In order to keep it semi-reasonable, I’ve limited each artist to one song.
Like the previous 2019 playlist, I’ve ordered these songs to flow and blend in a way that makes sense (for example, I gather the slow and atmospheric songs away from the upbeat poppy stuff, and note that I begin with the most chaotic song by far so it won’t be too shocking later).
- Blanck Mass – House Vs. House
- Dorian Electra – Flamboyant
- Sudan Archives – Confessions
- Rapsody – Nina
- Purple Pilgrims – Sensing Me
- Sequoyah Murray – Penalties Of Love
- Jenny Hval – High Alice
- Bat For Lashes – Jasmine
- Golden Gardens – Desert Rose
- Hello Seahorse! – Domino
- Vagabon – Water Me Down
- Natasha Kmeto – Count To 5
- Yuna – Blank Marquee
- Harry Styles – Golden
- Shura – Religion (U Lay Your Hands On Me)
- Chromatics – You’re No Good
- Tinashe – Save Room For Us Ft. MAKJ
- Mark Ronson ft. King Princess – Pieces of Us
- Normani – Motivation
- Liz – DIamond In The Dark
- Charli XCX – Silver Cross
- Roisin Murphy – Narcissus
- Ana Frango Eletrico – Torturadores
- Flying Lotus – Tea Leaf Dancers (Maida Vale Session)
- Salami Rose Joe Louis – Sitting With Thoughts
- Tamaryn – Terrified (Robin Guthrie Remix)
- Drab Majesty – Oxytocin
- Yeule – Poison Arrow
- Barker – Paradise Engineering
- Steve Hauschildt – Subtractive Skies
- Chelsea Wolfe – Be All Things
- Angel Olsen – Summer
- Natalie Rose Lebrecht – Lost
- La Feline – Tant que tu respires
- Caroline Polachek – Go As A Dream
- Soda Lite – Vale & Stone
- CFCF – Impossible Condo
- Sulli – Dorothy
- Estelle – True Kinda Love
- Tei Shi – We
- Maria Usbeck – Retirement Home
- Teebs – Studie ft. Panda Bear