Teen Daze: Glacier – Teen Daze has never quite fit into chill wave. He’s like that kid who’s promptly sporting a quaffed hairdo — up and to the side — while he holds his lunch tray firm in his hand, searching for a place to take a seat during lunchtime. He’s stylistically and fashionably different and he knows it. Washed Out, Toro Y Moi, and Neon Indian are sitting in the near vicinity — talking, laughing sharing trade secrets of chill, as Teen Daze passes by, without noticeable incident, and sits presumably by himself. While this analogy might not quite explain the mercurial meaning of Teen Daze, it does provide one with a snapshot of how solitary and unique his dreamy, synth-filled sampling- and looping-filled music appears to be. Teen Daze is a Canadian-born producer who goes by the sole name of Jamison, kind of like how Madonna is just Madonna. Well, maybe quite not like that. Teen Daze emanates, embodies, and draws inspiration from the blooming north and brisk fall of British Columbia, Vancouver.
After releasing successive LPs All of Together and The Inner Mansions, Jamison returns with his third in Glacier — a forty minute exploration of the art of abstract instrumental music and a refined take on structured compositions. The opener, ‘Alaska’, is replete with idyllic pianos, foreboding synths accompanied by Jamison’s ethereal howl that seems to be never-ending, fractured pieces of it still reverberating somewhere in the cosmos. Near the song’s end, kick and bass drums stutter in a nervous frenzy with Teen Daze uttering, “No one sees you/The way I see you.” Jamison offers his take on hip hop and R&B with the chill pace on the first section on ‘Autumnal’. Glimmering synths and resonating pianos signal the early warning signs of shorter days and the dissipation of vibrant colors of fall leaves losing their respective color and identity, giving way to the inevitability of winter.
‘Ice On the Windowsill’ represents Teen Daze at his absolute finest. We see fleeting glimpses of Jamison’s stunningly good knack for producing pop sensibility here. Whirling and nostalgic synths combine with a soothing, brittle piano echo as he croons, “Winter comes.” The chorus offers up a change of pace as well as a heightened mood and dramatic atmosphere, almost like two different songs in one. It’s the best song on Glacier and maybe the best song of Jamison’s young, burgeoning career. ‘Tundra’ is a song that only Teen Daze could produce. The non-linear pace and fragmented segments are supplemented by field recordings, video-game effects, and the new addition of live instruments (Teen Daze plans to go on tour this year for the first time as a live band). ‘Listen’ has an undeniable warmth to it. Images of sitting near a fireplace and cuddling up next to a loved one or a reading a favorite book spring to mind. ‘Walk’ is the perfect closer as its reverb-laden piano serves as a tribute to happy endings and hopeful beginnings. Glacier ends up taking the road less traveled in effectively crafting chill wave and avoiding the itch to create that one hit song that plagues so many in the now-claustrophobic scene. In effect, what Teen Daze has created is a sonic blueprint for the chill wave genre in unbridled experimentation — truly free in every sense of the word.
Teen Daze had never really made that radio-ready single like Washed Out’s ‘New Theory’ or had anything quite as accessible as Neon Indian’s ‘Should Have Taken Acid With You’ until now, in ‘Ice on the Windowsill’. But you can just sense that Jamison isn’t about mainstream music — he resides in the spaces in between sonic artistry and walls of sound (parts of Glacier almost veer into post-electronica). And you know what? That’s a great thing. Don’t get me wrong, Teen Daze definitely deserves to be as successful as his peers, but the fact that he may not be (or maybe never will be) is rather endearing. Teen Daze is that hidden treasure among chill wave fans and electronica aficionados. He’s the underdog that’s just good and talented enough to be enjoyed, without all the incessant hype, canned clichés about chill wave artists, and bandwagon fans. Teen Daze, as well as Glacier, will seemingly always live underneath the radar… 8.9/10
Washed Out: Paracosm – Debuting in 2009 with the sun-drenched EP, Life of Leisure, Ernest Greene of Washed Out has since been deftly creating airy, dreamy songs from the annals of his mind. Originally from Perry, Georgia, he has seen his fair share of success with constant headline touring combined with his debut LP, Within and Without, charting at twenty-six on Billboard in 2011 — no small feat for an artist who was creating bedroom-produced pop just a few years ago. Now, Greene, along with Toro y Moi and Neon Indian, is considered to be a figurehead and pioneer of the chillwave movement. However, that wasn’t enough (it never is for the greats), as Greene took his undivided attention and placed it on constructing an album that featured more acoustics, less synthesizer, meticulous themes, layered harmonies, and a well-placed harp. (A harp?! We’ll get to that later.)
Paracosm, released on Sub Pop, marks his latest and second foray at building elements that make up an LP, which adds a few new wrinkles to the mix. In a recent interview with Spin, Greene talked about extending beyond the realms and musical identity of chillwave via experimentation, saying, “Being outside is a loose theme on Paracosm. Acoustic-sounding instruments have that warmth to them that is really important to communicate.” Greene delivers on his declaration by barely wasting any light, as exuberant orchestras and birds chirp in the blossoming morning, which fills lush spaces in the inaugural opener, ‘Entrance’. The lead single, ‘It All Feels Right,’ finds Greene adding the practical usages of live drums, static, acoustic guitars echoing Ping-Pong style, and reoccurring ornate orchestras to his already-superb repertoire. Incandescent images of endless summers on loop or lounging down by the beach spring to mind. Reportedly, Greene played most of the instruments on Paracosm, which is impressive considering the stereotype of Generation Y ‘DIY’ producers all hopped on MacBook Pros and Reason.
‘Don’t Give Up’ is the first chillwave-like (if you could call it that) song on here as serene synths kick off in high fashion, replete with swirling synthesizers coupled with drums for an added substance—a sated kind of depth. Per usual on Washed Out offerings, gleaming vocals are cloaked in reverb, ushering one to perform a quick Google search for his lyrics to ascertain their true meanings. ‘Great Escape’ fades into glowing synths, wind chimes and lo-fi drums, before the song paces into a controlled frenzy, shortly thereafter. The bass line is simple, yet effective, as it serves the easy-going tempo that the song naturally sets off. Of the few breakdowns that occur on Paracosm, the best one manifests on ‘Great Escape.’ About midway into the track, the drums subside as Greene’s prolific voice repeats and nostalgic synths carry it into the air.
‘Weightless’ might be the best song Greene has ever written. It’s just a beautifully, put-together song that discussing in further detail fails to do the song justice. But I shall try anyways. Kick drums echo as introspective organs flutter in anticipation. Refined synths accompany the organs, and the chorus is where his voice really shines. His voice and range project in such a way that is surprisingly powerful. It’s hard to make out what he’s saying, but that’s not really the point here. It’s about the emotion and the majestic nature of it all. It’s the seams in which the intimate affection exhibited in his voice seeps through — it is in your interpretation. This is one of those songs that starts strong and gets better as it spins, which is truly a testament to Greene’s accomplished growth and evolution as a singer-songwriter. On ‘Weightless’, Greene appears to be at his absolute best, as his howl is stellar and attitude are seemingly unrestrained. Sub Pop could easily release this as a single. It’s the quintessential track for your summer. ‘Paracosm’ is dreamy and psychedelic. Electric-sounding harps reverberate, calm organs flicker, and pianos meddle softly in the background. Greene makes use again of the acoustic guitar as it, along with a trumpet, filters in conjunction amidst the other glorious instruments in unison, halfway into the six plus minute epic.
Spinning Paracosm for the first time, I couldn’t help but notice the different array of instruments presented here on showcase—electric guitars, marimbas, acoustic guitars, sitars, drums, synths, organs, and harps all operating in the ever altering landscape (Greene allegedly used over fifty instruments). Greene didn’t seem too concerned with the repercussions of complicated musical arrangements or structured harmonies or the effect that it would have on passionate fans scared of the dreaded “sophomore slump.” At first blush, these seem to be superfluous instruments that wouldn’t necessarily be associated with chillwave fashion. However, Greene manages to weave all these instruments into a beautiful-sounding produced artifact. This isn’t Life of Leisure or Within and Without and that’s fine. Paracosm is the inevitable next step in Greene’s career when we look back in retrospect and utter, “That was the album that separated Washed Out from its contemporaries.” While cool synths, sampling, and looping occasionally still rear their collective heads, the story here on Paracosm is that Washed Out has transcended above and beyond the aforementioned genre, creating an album that can stand on its own musical complexity and intelligent authorship without kowtowing completely to the chillwave movement. Paracosm is a musical triumph of Greene’s highly ambitious will… 10/10
RLMDL: Before Then Was Now — RLMDL, pronounced “role model,” is Toronto’s Jordan Allen, and he makes a dreamy debut with Before Then Was Now. If I were to guess, I would not peg RLMDL‘s illusory style as being from Toronto at all, but from somewhere closer to the coast, where shafts of pale sun make eyes glisten, and salt breezes sift through shining hair.
The album starts out on a high note with the hazy vibes of ‘Young Rebels’. Saturated in layers of pleasant distortion and syncopated beats, this song is like walking through a dream, and it couldn’t be more like clouds after a sun-shower. It is here where we also come to see that the album’s simple pastel cover art is highly appropriate, because it seems to mimic the experience this album produces. You have been in the sun a little too long. You are a little sunburned, a little dehydrated and windblown, your eyes can only see in green when you return to being inside, but the euphoria is of an unmistakable kind. You are permeated with fresh air and infused with relaxation.
Every song here vibrates to a unique frequency, but all are calming enough to be appropriate for sun bathing, or even as background music for studying. However, there is more than first meets the ear. Upon listening further, there are layers to uncover. Subtle distortions and changes in pace, slight alterations in volume, and other melodious quirks make this album a pleasure to listen to. It is something that surely has the potential to grow with every listen.
The lyrics are thoughtful and carry themes of dream seeking, unfulfilled goals, wearing masks as we work our way through life, and unrequited love. However, despite the apparent melancholy tone of the songwriting, the overarching vibe of RLMDL remains intensely positive. I want to tell Jordan Allen and his light, soothing voice that he doesn’t fool me for a second – that I know at heart he is an incurable optimist, if a deep thinker. (I think it is possible to be both… do you?) After all, no one who creates music that sounds like waves and sunbeams can hate life too much, or at least for too long. I want to say we needed this: a small spot of beach in our winter, a cool breath of salty seas on a humid Toronto afternoon.
Before Then Was Now is a success in another way; it manages to be easier to define by describing its nature than by attempting to pin down the quality that leaves one feeling a little speechless. Fans of Washed Out and Brothertiger would be wise to give RLMDL a listen, because it has a similar chilled feeling redolent of beaches and the early sunset before the shadows grow too long. There is a place you can go where music transcends meaning, and RLMDL takes us there…8.5/10
Small Black: Limits of Desire - Upon listening to the new release from Small Black, the first and most prominent word that comes to mind is “ethereal”. The new album, Limits of Desire, is like classic Small Black but dreamier. The band has evolved and drawn from various influences to give fans something new that is still true to their sound.
The new album is laid-back and calm without being safe or boring. Josh Kolenik and the other members have clearly taken note from chillwave acts like Washed Out as well as indie dream-pop groups like Sun Airway, Wild Nothing, and DIIV. With the growing popularity and interest surrounding these genres, Small Black has come out with not just an album, but an experience for the listener.
With two masterful releases already under their belt, including their self-titled EP with the hit single ‘Despicable Dogs’ as well as their full-length 2010 release New Chain, fans had to wonder if the group would be able to continue to measure up to the high standard they had set for themselves. The key factor here: consistency. Small Black has managed to rise to the challenge of surprising fans and keeping them interested.
The first single ‘Free at Dawn’ is an excellent introduction to the album. It captures the essence of waking up and being free. It is the inhale preceding the rest of the album. As you listen, you can almost feel the wind in your hair and see the sun rising in front of you.
Other stand-out tracks include ‘No Stranger’ and ‘Proper Spirit’. ‘No Stranger’ is catchy and fun, which is characteristic of their previous work but still holds on to the chill, serene sound of the rest of Limits of Desire through the use of dreamy synths and Kolenik’s soothing vocals. “Take me through your barricades/Push me through your city walls/Take me. I can be whoever you want.” Poetic lyrics like these demonstrate their skillful songwriting. With ‘Proper Spirit’, I can already see the masses of fans out at a Small Black show, hands raised in the air singing along with the infectious chorus. The introductory instrumentation seems almost 80′s-influenced and while you listen, you can’t help but bob your head.
Just because Limits of Desire is more refined and polished, this in no way means that the album is lacking in the energy department. Tracks like ‘Breathless’ and ‘Outskirts’ capture Small Black’s brand of playfulness and will undoubtedly have fans up and dancing around. There is strong composition throughout and a good sense of sound. In other words, the album is cohesive. All the songs fit together like pieces of a puzzle. You can tell it all goes together and is working toward a singular purpose. It’s not confused and it has a strong sense of focus and continuity.
Limits of Desire is a well-crafted and inspired piece of work. The band combines a softer, more relaxed sounds while still keeping familiar elements like dance-y, electronic beats and catchy hooks. All the elements come together to create something that is lovely, pleasant, and of course, fun. With Limits of Desire, Small Black has accomplished something that so many bands end up struggling with: they have managed to evolve and grow without completely losing their identity as musicians. As a whole I am very excited about the band’s latest effort and I am confident that other Small Black fans will be equally pleased… 8.9/10
New Jersey is known for a few things… mostly that it’s New York’s not-as-cool neighbor. But more recently, New Jersey synth pop artists have been emerging from their home studios and slowly changing the perception that it’s only filled with ridiculous guidos and Cake Bosses. One of these more notable artists is Crozet with their exceptional programming, slick keyboards/synths and an uncanny talent for writing some pretty memorable and singable melodies. After listening to We’ll Be Gone By Then for the first time and admiring the brilliant way it builds like no other record I’ve ever heard, I was left speechless. If they’re not on multiple publications’ best of the year lists, they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. Recently, I caught up with John Helmuth and Sean Lee of Crozet while they were remixing their version of the Coca Cola jingle…
Violent Success: What are your musical backgrounds and how did you guys start playing together?
John: When Sean and I met we were joined together in a band through a mutual friend. The band was called Cityscapes. This was around 7 or 8 years ago. The band sounded a lot like Circa Survive with a hard rock sound mixed with Pink Floyd spacey interludes and transitions. We both were coming from other bands with metal/hardcore/punk influences. At that time, shows in South Jersey Philly were so fun to play. Hundreds of kids would come out to every show. It didn’t really matter what type of music we played. As long as there were bands playing kids would show up.
VS: Have you been accumulating songs over the years or is We’ll Be Gone By Then all new material?
John: We’ll Be Gone By Then / Alterations EP were a collection of songs that I started while I was away at school. I wasn’t able to practice with my band Bacio as much since I was so busy with school, so I ended up getting Reason on my computer, a crappy little Korg midi controller and a few old 80s keyboards and started writing whatever came to mind. It got to the point where I had a decent amount of material and no purpose for it, so I asked Sean to be apart of the project I had started. The songs weren’t even close to being finished, but I knew that by having Sean in on the project that these songs could become more than just a late night project. The great thing about this project was that it was totally stress-free. We had no deadlines, no shows, no real direction, just the two of us writing whatever we felt like writing.
VS: So how do you transpose the songs from the record into a live performance? How much equipment do you bring along with you?
John: Transposing the album into a live performance is pretty simple. At first we wanted to have a live band play with us, but to keep it simple we ended up just getting rid of a lot of guitar tracks, keyboard tracks and vocal tracks in the masters and decided to just play those deleted tracks live. Eventually I will definitely have visuals and possibly some kind of live band, but for now its a lot of fun just having the two of us on stage. Our live gear is also super simple. We both bring our laptops; Sean plays guitar live with his effects pedals and Musicman 2×12 and I use the Novation Impulse 25 midi controller which is great because it has 8 drum pads and keys with Aftertouch. I also bring along by Yamaha DX-21 for a few songs which is a lot of fun to play around with on stage. We plug both of our computers into a small mixer and DI the mixer out to the house mixer so we have total control over all of our levels while we play. I also run the vocals through our mixer and use my effect pedals for my guitar to control the effects on the vocals.
VS: What are your main influences? Are there artists that you both share a love of?
John: Our influences are constantly changing, but back when we were writing the two albums we were heavily influenced by both old and new M83, Yo La Tengo, Vangelis, Com Truise, and Washed Out to name a few. I was attending a lot of movie nights at school so I was paying a lot of attention to the scores from these films. Most of these movies were from the 80s and 90s. John Hughes films were and always will be a huge inspiration for me. When it comes to the artists that influence Sean and I we both have different sources. The artists I stated earlier are definitely influences for the both of us, but the nice thing about the two of us is that we pull inspiration from all different types of things. I don’t think I would want to write with someone who listens to the same exact stuff that I do. I need a different perspective when I bring something to the table. Just recently I’ve been listening to a lot of late night R&B on the radio haha. I have a full page word document of different songs that I heard on the radio that had one or two little parts that I felt I could I could base a whole song off of.
Sean: At the time we were doing the albums I think Tears for Fears‘ Songs From The Big Chair was on repeat along with some older Depeche Mode stuff. I can remember an instance where I was watching Point Break (killer movie) and there is this scene at the end when special agent Utah is getting ready to take Bodhi under arrest. It switches to this huge wave shot and there’s a super ambient moving synth thing going on. I seriously sat around for days trying to replicate that synth and we wound up writing an interlude for our set with it. John has said it before, but it seems we always find inspiration at the weirdest times in the oddest places.
VS: Was there a song, album or artist that really pushed you to synth music?
John: I can’t say there was one song, album or artist that pushed us to do this project. I can say that the whole chillwave/synthpop movement that has been getting big (and a little overpopulated) over the past few years has really pushed us to try to do something. Between all of the different “bedroom” artists that have been getting huge releasing stuff online like Teen Daze, Wild Nothing, Blackbird Blackbird and Neon Indian, I felt like I should just try to put in my 2 cents and see what happens. So far the response to our music has been amazing.
Sean: I can say for me it was a couple years back when I started getting into Telefon Tel Aviv. It seriously made me want to do electronic music. That’s when I started messing around with Reason and Digital Performer. From there music for me went in a whole different direction because before that I was pretty much just into Indie Rock/Hardcore, all rock-based music.
VS: Talk a little bit about your creative process…
John: The creative process is always fun. I tend to just pull out the DX-21, or my Arturia and just jam until I hear something that I could base a full song off of. On the past two albums I would send Sean something via email that I wrote and he would add his parts to it and send it back. This would go on for weeks. Now we are getting together a lot more and just jamming like we used to do when we would write with our previous bands. We pull ideas off of each other when we jam together so much easier than when we send each other stuff through email. We have a nice batch of gear right now and by setting it all up and just jamming together, the creative process is so much easier than it used to be.
VS: Is there a specific part of the album that makes you particularly proud?
John: When I listen back to We’ll Be Gone By Then, I try to listen to it all the way through. I feel really proud of how the album flows. From the second the album starts to the second it ends I feel that the order of the tracks tells a story. If someone could put video to the album from start to finish I feel that its pretty easy to visualize in your head how the story of the film would go.
Sean: Yeah for me there isn’t a particular part of the album that really stands out, but the overall production I feel is something that we have always tried to accomplish in all of the projects that we have done together. We knew exactly how we wanted the album to sound and we made it sound that way.
VS: What websites/blogs do you regularly visit for inspiration and information?
John: Some blogs that I visit on a daily basis are Violent Success :), along with the usuals like Pitchfork, ISO50, and Ad Hoc (Formerly Altered Zones). Designspiration is a site kind of similar to how Pinterest works where you can take any image on the internet and link it to your account which will be posted on your profile page. The whole site is filled with awesome things to pull visual inspiration from. This is my profile: Designspiration.net/jhelmuth. Svpply is also a site I’m on a little too much. Svpply is a site that is filled with anything you would want to buy. I mean anything. All you do is create an account, search for something you want to buy and scroll through the search results and click “want” on the items you want to add to your wish list. This is my profile: Svpply.com/jhelmuth
VS: Why thank you, we try. But thanks for talking with us today. Any closing comments, recipes or restaurants you’d like to recommend to our readers?
Crozet: Thank you so much for giving us this opportunity! If you want some restaurant recommendations find the closest Weber’s Drive-In or Nathan’s Famous and enjoy the best summer food. I can’t eat enough of this stuff right now…
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