I’ve loved Teen Daze for a while now, because I have a deep and abiding affection for chillwave. Chillwave as a genre has splintered, with adherents linking up with genres they more fit with as their sounds mutate.
Teen Daze stayed firmly with the chillwave thing until A World Away, where he goes full electro on us. The six songs of A World Away draw heavily on arpeggiators, rhythmic patterns, reverb-heavy ’80s synth sounds, and clean lines to get the job done: the results are long tunes that place their lot with subtle change in repetitious themes. Opener “Sunburst” pairs some slow-moving chillwave bass against a neatly organized arpeggiator for a best-of-both-worlds mix; closer “I Feel God in the Water” drops the aggressive pulse and returns to the gently moving warm vibes that characterizes the earliest of chillwave tunes.
But in between, tracks like “Another Night” and “Than” smack listeners in the face with aggressive beats from the first second, assimilating them into a clubby mentality immediately; both tunes adjust and change over their 6 and nearly-9-minute runtimes, but the change in modus operandi is clear here. There’s still chillwave influences throughout, but Teen Daze is striking out in another direction on this release. Future work will let us know if this is the final form, or if the sound will keep changing.
Slow Magic‘s How to Run Away combines chillwave and chiptune, two of my favorite niche genres, to create a whole album that lives in the tension between lush and staccato. “Hold Still” shows off the dichotomy best, where flowing synths and chill beats in the bulk of the song give way to a mini-dubstep coda with screamin’ single-note synths straight out of a video game somewhere.
Slow Magic does have songs that show off both sides: “Youth Group” sounds like Final Fantasy-inspired chiptune, while “Girls” is right in line with Pogo and Blackbird Blackbird in terms of chopped-vocals/smooth synths chillwave construction. But it’s the songs where the elements cross (and are augmented by insistent piano, as is often the case) where the songs shine. It’s not as high-energy as Anamanaguchi, but this isn’t sit-back-and-relax music either. It strives to make its own path, and that’s commendable no matter what genre you’re in.
Remedies also has some serious chiptune influences, but they choose trip-hop as their second ingredient. Slow Magic chooses upbeat, bright moods; Remedies chooses downtempo, midnight-blue moods to go along with high-pitched synths. The sounds from all your SNES dungeon gaming have found new life in Believers, re-appropriated in unique ways.
This is most clearly shown in single “Trap,” where the opening riff sends me back to Zelda: Link to the Past, while the dreamy synths and autotuned vocals take the song in a different direction. The vocals appear throughout the album, graduating the tunes of Believers from easily-classified electro jams to a more complex and rewarding description: a hybrid R&B/alt hip-hop project. “Time” is a particularly evocative example of their hip-hop grooves, while follow-up “Good Books” shows off their R&B chops in vocal melodies and spurned-lover lyrics. Chiptune, trip-hop, hip-hop, and R&B in a blender seems like a tough thing to imagine, but Remedies sounds surprisingly assured and mature in pulling it off.
ODESZA‘s In Return also has some R&B influences, particularly in the Shy Guys feature “All We Need” and the smooth instrumental banger “Kusanagi.” But it’s a side effect of ODESZA’s main mission: absorb every possible electro-based genre into its own version of what electronic music should be. Call it post-dub if you like, but there’s hardly a drop to be found here (even of the artsy version they originally came to prominence on). Instead, there’s flashes of clubby electro-pop (“Sun Models”), soundtrack-ready mood backdrops (“Sundara”), laconic electronic estimations of quirky indie-pop (“Memories That You Call”), and more. The opening of “For Us” sounds like the start of Coldplay’s “Strawberry Swing,” which is more compliment than not from this party.
By absorbing the lessons of many different strains of electronic music (including chiptune!), ODESZA has crafted an album that blows past all of them. There’s not a cloying or cheesy moment on this whole album, which is a testament to the group’s skill and nuance. (I love Anamanaguchi, because cheesiness is the point. When cheesiness is not the end goal, that’s when it gets problematic.) If you’re into electronic music, you really should be listening to ODESZA. For my money, they’re making the most interesting electronic music around.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.