Chillwave

VIDEO PREMIERE: Vansire - That I Miss You

Will Shenton

There's a charming discrepancy between the polished production of Vansire's groovy synth-pop track "That I Miss You" and the DIY goofiness of the video that accompanies it. Tight hooks flow like tides beneath lightly modulated vocals as the duo, Josh Augustin and Sam Winemiller, dance in loosely choreographed deadpan across their hometown of Rochester, MN in matching NASA t-shirts. It's an endearing tableau, but the playful tone and summery melodies belie a more thoughtful undercurrent.

Originally inspired by a nonsensical phrase ("like a Lichtenstein," which Augustin latched onto simply for its alliterative qualities), "That I Miss You" evolved into a meditation on the nature of art and commodification. "Any attempt to make art about relationships or love is, to a certain extent, a stylization of a personal experience for an audience," Augustin explained, going on to say that the track is something of a summation of his mental state since the release of their recent LP Angel Youth. "The original intention was light lyrical fare about a college friend of mine who just transferred, but it ended up being more about the nature of art in general."

That said, the song never collapses beneath the weight of its own navel-gazing. By couching those ruminations in lighthearted (if somewhat bittersweet) pop and garnishing it with some self-deprecating dance moves, Vansire strike a balance that feels substantial and easily digestible at the same time. "That I Miss You" is an infectiously catchy and accessible track, but there's plenty to unpack on subsequent listens.

Catch Vansire on their West Coast Tour this August

Aug. 2 - Voodoo Room - San Diego

Aug. 4 - Bootleg Theater - Los Angeles

Aug. 5 - Daydream Festival - Sacramento

Aug. 6 - Slim's - San Francisco

Aug. 9 - Crocodile - Seattle

Aug. 10 - Mission Theater - Portland

Aug. 11 - China Cloud - Vancouver

PREMIERE: Millionyoung - What To Do

Millionyoung - Rare Form Cover.jpg

Will Shenton

Millionyoung's latest single, "What To Do," is a track that makes itself at home in nearly any context. Opening with a wash of transportive, tropical synths, the song progresses like a dream through Mike Diaz's hazy vocals and shimmering beats, channeling warm sunsets and neon-lit city streets. Punchy enough to stand as a dance track but eminently laid-back, "What To Do" is poised to be an anthem for the summer.

Be sure to catch Millionyoung's new LP, Rare Form, out 4/13 on Mishu Records.

PREMIERE: Taught Abroad - Harmonizer

Laura Kerry

There’s a man in Chicago named Chris Sadek who has the magical ability to multiply himself. For the past four years, he has often taken the form of Taught Abroad, a band that combines electronic music with touches of pop, R&B, soul, and chillwave. But even as Taught Abroad, now a one-man act, Sadek seems to shape-shift and appear in multiple places at once. Throughout his latest EP, Harmonizer, his voice changes from an airy whisper to a high, soulful falsetto and a low, romantic incantation, all while his varied instrumental voices sweep in and out in a full sound.

In four songs, Taught Abroad morphs into different shapes using a palette of sultry synth washes, muted dance beats, emotive strings (he is a trained cellist), and an effortlessly expressive and beautiful voice. Harmonizer opens with “Pantyhouser,” an upbeat track with a danceable bass line and beat whose guitar riff and tone recall the summer jam perfection of Daft Punk and Pharrell’s “Get Lucky.”

After that comes “Harmonizer,” with its slow, simmering R&B feel, and “Tigerpussy,” a downtempo but beat-driven track with gorgeous, romantic vocals and a surge of strings. Harmonizer ends with “Spanks,” which starts with steel-drum synths and includes a satisfying beat drop before building towards a dramatic conclusion—adding several layers of vocals (other people or his own voice with effects) and electronic instruments, all of Sadek’s incarnations come together for a grand finale. And you can hear it all here first.

REVIEW: TOPAZ - Phrases

Kelly Kirwan

TOPAZ crafts a lo-fi, island style of electronica that wafts through the room in subtle waves. In his new EP Phrases, the Chicago-based producer (Zack Johnson) sparks daydreams of warmer weather with predominantly mellow synths, muted beats, and sparse but soothing vocals. It’s not the kind of EP that relies on frills or begs for your attention—rather, Phrases is a go-to for creating a calm ambiance, the sort of meditative music that drifts between your conscious and unconscious mind. You’ll find yourself singing along to lyrics you hadn't realized you learned yet, because while TOPAZ may be subtle, it’s still tenacious.

Of the album’s six tracks, "Outside" is a particular gem (rest easy, that was the first and last pun we'll be indulging today). It has that Pacific-island feel, with ukulele-esque strumming punctuated by warbled, wah-wah beats and Johnson’ soft vocals promising airily, “I’ll never go outside again.” The song builds to a fuzzy, echoing apex, and then segues almost immediately into the album’s final track. It’s a quick, two-minute ditty, but one that's imbued with a sense of loneliness that piques your interest. It gives what would otherwise be a sweet, simple melody a touch of character.

Its foil, then, would be "Singa," the seven-minute cut that leans most towards the "contemporary electronic music" category—if we had to pick. Its first few seconds are dominated by the word “singa” filtered through various digital distortions, chanted over Johnson’s soulful and under-enunciated singing. It’s a track that I kept returning to, trying to get a handle on its free-form structure and intersecting sonic styles. It’s an auditory odyssey that blends bass, acoustic-sounding guitar accents, and various other elements for the discerning ear. Needless to say, for its lengthy running time, it doesn’t get stale. 

Then there’s "Take After You," a jazzy, reverb-lined number, whose percussive backbone is tinged with hi hats and a clapping rhythm. The half-thought “I don’t know why...” is repeated throughout, in that signature dreamy delivery, with Johnson occasionally filling in the ellipses: “I don’t know why / I don’t know why I try / I take after you."

While Phrases may operate on a low-key frequency, it certainly doesn't sacrifice intricacy. Johnson’s beats are tightly woven, and while each of the album’s six tracks are nuanced and unique, they coexist so cohesively beside one another that you don’t actively register where one ends and the other begins. Instead, you slip into a quasi-Caribbean-inspired fugue state, absorbing the music without being accosted by it. 

And, at the end of the day, who wants something obvious? TOPAZ knows how to play coy, pulling you in with slow-burning synths and (I like to think) a wink. With Phrases, he certainly seems to have demonstrated the virtues of the "slow and steady" ethos.

REVIEW: Neon Indian - VEGA INTL. Night School

Laura Kerry

A few weeks ago, I opened up a new text message to a friend from college I hadn’t talked to in a while, and the thread that appeared revealed our last exchange was from November 2011. I had thanked him for sending the second Neon Indian album, Era Extraña, then brand new.

What this discovery showed (besides that there’s a chance I’m no longer friends with this person) is how I conceived of Neon Indian, Alan Palomo’s chillwave band and indie darling, at the cusp of the release of its new album. I listened to Era Extraña, along with some of the first, Psychic Chasms (2009), often that year—my final one in college. Saturated with warm, dreamy synths and built-in nostalgia summoning the lo-fi ‘80s, the sentiments of the music so perfectly mirrored those of mastering the tiny, comfortable universe of school while perceiving its approaching end, just like the passing summertime these albums evoked.

Neon Indian’s third album turns out to be very little like that, and I, for one, am relieved. VEGA INTL. Night School leaves behind much of the shoegazey romance for a more up-tempo, energetic feeling that runs the gamut on genres and sounds. After a short but feverish electronic intro, “Annie” begins the album with a ska beat and bright, flute-like line that recall Men at Work’s “Land Down Under”; in the middle of the album, “The Glitzy Hive” hits the same almost-parody funk falsetto of Beck’s “Debra”; and the aptly-named “Techno Clique” begins the final third of the album with the deep, thumping bass and light drum pad of a standard EDM club banger. It’s a frenetic listening experience, but a fun—and funny—one, too.

In untethering itself from somber and earnest chillwave (not that it was ever fully tethered), Neon Indian embraces pop music that is allowed to be lighter.  Though much of Palomo’s singing is subsumed by the fray of intricately-layered synth voices, some lyrics stand out. They include: “Just feel alright,” “partay,” and “skin-tight neoprene.” It’s not always clear exactly what Palomo is getting at, but the sentiments—informed by a kind of dance music swagger and a mastery of retro vibes—come through loud and clear.

But just when the sentiments gel, Neon Indian has a habit of collapsing them. In more songs than not on VEGA INTL. Night School, the last ten or so seconds (sometimes more, sometimes less) pick up an entirely new sound. Sometimes, there’s a reimagining of a theme from earlier in a very different voice (the strings in “Glitzy Hive”), but occasionally it gets weirder, as in the radio scanning at the end of “Smut!” or the DJ chanting to a crowd at the end of “Slumlord.” Probably in part a consideration of how the songs flow into each other, these endings also give the impression that Neon Indian has pulled back the curtain to reveal it was messing with us the whole time, performing its genres, moods, and hinted-at stories. Call it a sense of drama or a sense of humor—either way, Neon Indian puts on a good show.