Chill Wave Is the New New Age

I don’t normally buy into generational arguments, but I have a theory that chillwave is a result of millennial anxiety around unstable social circumstances. Rough economy, hard to get jobs, and the ones you get are low-paying with seemingly little room for upward mobility. With all this anxiety plus the general noise of a society awash in media, music provides solace, explaining chillwave’s general inoffensiveness: straightforward major-key melodies, soothing vocals, layers upon layers of synth pads, beats that are the epitome of fluid. It’s relaxing – honestly not that far away from new age. Turn on Washed Out, smoke a bowl, leave this grating world for a while.

Basically, it’s the new new age music.

Teach the Children Well

My friend Eric Tischler of The Hurricane Lamps and The Jet Age posted this classic Onion piece on Facebook – “Cool Dad Raising Daughter On Media That Will Put Her Entirely Out Of Touch With Her Generation” – with the comment, “My heart-felt inner monologue rendered as satire.”

I can relate: As I explained in an interview once, my dad had firm control over the radio dial, so growing up in the 80s I only ingested classic rock, which sounded a lot better than the contemporary stuff I was hearing. (Of course, now I listen to a ton of bands from my childhood that I had no idea existed – it wasn’t on the suburban radio station and I lacked a cool older sibling.) Oh how the kids at school made fun of me for my love of Bowie, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and the uncoolest band of all time: The Beatles.

I was especially given a hard time by the jean-jacket-wearing, mullet-spouting guys who were into Metallica and Guns & Roses. Now considering how far from grace both of those groups have fallen. Primus is another band I remember the cool kids raving about – the best description I ever read of Les Claypool and crew was by Dr. David Thorpe, who commented that Primus is that band that your older brother was into, and he seemed so cool when you were young, but then you got older and listened to it and realized, “Wow, this kind of sucks.”

I have to give a lot of credit to my father for shaping my taste in music early, and actually inspiring me to pick up the guitar. I struck out on my own listening path around the time Nirvana broke, but my dad actually considers Nirvana Unplugged one of his favorite albums. I think my love of NIN was much harder for him to relate to, though I was listening to The Bends a lot at the same time, another modern favorite for him. I’m still trading music suggestions with him now.

When it comes to music, Eric’s kids are lucky to have a dad who is a talented musician, has pristine taste, and can probably listen to contemporary artists and point out their influences, thereby furthering their musical discovery. Also, I think the current crop of kids (Generation Z?) are growing up in a time similar to my childhood: mainstream music is simply godawful. Since “indie” itself is now an industry producing one milquetoast product after another, the hunt is on for the “new alternative” (it is not revivalist emo).

Perhaps Libel is part of that… Tell your kids they can’t listen to my album because it has explicit lyrics – that’ll really get them interested… Eric mentioned his friend David  told him the secret about how to upgrade his kids’ musical tastes: he just puts cool music on without any preamble, and answer all questions as if he’s distracted and not really interested in talking about it but he’ll indulge.

BTW, I don’t have kids (that I know of), but I’m deathly afraid if/when I do that they will find my music incredibly lame…

On Political Songs, or Not Sounding Like a Self-Righteous Prick

Something I always contemplate in lyric writing and my band banter is how deep do I dive into politics? As my friend Steve put it, “Music For Car Commercials” features my first overtly political song, “Old Boy,” but it’s definitely not a left vs. right piece. The key lyric: “Old words spew from that fresh face/yeah, he’s just like the guy he replaced/Old Boy, ain’t such a thing as change.” There’s also the line, “Hope’s just a thing they say.”

Now “Old Boy” and a few other songs on the album are about resignation and feeling powerless in modern society. But there’s a reason the album ends with “Thoroughly Modern Milieu” and the line, “You are not all right, you are not OK.” It’s a call to realize that while much looks bleak for us huddled masses (the term “Old Boy” in my mind refers to the everyman), don’t stop fighting for what you want, what you believe. Resignation is for chumps.

“Old Boy” is a bit more of a warning against politicians, the media and the financial system. Even the first chorus is a call to rise above the shit: “Tired of running the race/when we can’t even keep on the pace/Old Boy, never get ahead that way.” The game is rigged? Stop playing it – but stop playing, just make your own game.

A bit vague, maybe. But overtly political music irritates me because it’s self righteous and preachy. I enjoy me some 80s hardcore, but I try to filter out the “Reagan Sux!” lyrics and revel in the pure emotion (anger). I enjoyed the first few Bright Eyes albums (definitely out of my normal stomping grounds) but he warded me off for good with his anti-Bush screeds in the mid-00s.

A political message shouldn’t eclipse the actual song. Take a listen to Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.” The lyrics are biting but don’t punch you in the face; what grabs you is that catchy chorus and the tremolo guitar (especially the harmonics, which I’ve heard sampled countless times). Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” is a hot groove before being an anthem – you’re tapping your foot and nodding your head in time as you say, “That ain’t right.”

The power of music should be it’s ability to stand the test of time, transcend from generation to generation. History and politics roll in cycles – I can relate to the words of both “For What It’s Worth” and “What’s Going On” though they comment on society before my birth. The lyrics reference a time, but also a sensation as timeless as the music itself.

Will “Old Boy” pass the same test, with future generations whistling alongside the chorus? Probably not, but you can’t say I didn’t try. And I doubt I’ll look back and say, “Christ, what preachy bullshit.”

“Still devoid of wit, subtlety and danger”

I listened to pieces of the new Arcade Fire and was shocked how well this review by Chris Richards summed up my thoughts. Since I first heard “Funeral,” I’ve always thought Arcade Fire was pretty fucking milquetoast. Sure, there were hooks and singalong choruses, but never any energy, never any edge. Any time I tried rock my head in beat with something like “Neighborhood Whatever (Lies)”, I found myself half-heartedly nodding. Their stuff is never bad (arguably highly derivative of Springsteen, and now late 70s Bowie it seems), just bland. They were definitely an inspiration for my newer lyric, “Mediocrity rises up/overfloweth the cup.”

There is a larger argument to make here that Arcade Fire was a key in the transition of the term “indie” from punk and vanguard to safe music segment for upper-middle class white kids to differentiate themselves from mainstream pop fans/listeners of adult contemporary radio. That would take some time – never forget that music is always about class.

Why should you listen to this Chris Richards guy? Well, he was part of Q & Not U, which was edgy and innovative while dropping killer hooks, and some pretty offbeat lyrics.

There’s Nothing Confusing About Love

The Sound of Confusion has given Libel a little love for “This Is Love” today – “Brooklyn group Libel are releasing ‘This Is Love’ as the first single from their new album ‘Music For Car Commercials’. We’re not sure this punky rock tune will be suitable for that purpose, but it ticks the right boxes for us, cramming in plenty of fuzz and distortion whilst making ample room for some melody too. A classic formula, but one that works great in capable hands.”

Indie Is Dead, Slain by Pop!

Steve Hyden is a go-to music writer for me, and this Grantland piece analyzing Haim (not related to Corey… unfortunately) nails the current dilemma. As a bunch of my snobby music friends agree, groups like Haim and CHVRCHES are basically bubblegum pop (I’ve seen more than one snarky Shania Twain comparison for the former). As far as pop goes, both seem to be pretty good, but it’s marketed and criticized as… indie, which is still supposed to mean “alternative to mainstream.” So the alternative to mainstream (which I fully admit is disturbing) is… Bubblegum pop? OK, once again we’re looking for the alternative to the alternative – it really is like 1998 all over again!

This is a chief reason we’re forgoing the indie tag… It means less than it ever has before…