Saturday, October 17, 2009

Whaddya Mean, Glo-Fi?

So, I was reading at one of my regular internet music places, and all of a sudden I'm hearing about a contender for album of the year (this current one). Investigating, I discovered a strange and new-ish phenomenon. I didn't realize we'd gotten to the point where a few similar albums would trigger the immediate christening of an all-new sub-sub-genre, then the re-christening, and re-christening, and re-christening. Then an all-out critical scrum over what genre tag should triumph.

"The sound has many names, but none of them seem to fit just right. Dream-beat, chillwave, glo-fi, hypnagogic pop, even hipster-gogic pop - all are imperfect phrases for describing a psychedelic music that's generally one or all of the following: synth-based, homemade-sounding, 80s-referencing, cassette-oriented, sun-baked, laid-back, warped, hazy, emotionally distant, slightly out of focus."
- Pitchfork review of Psychic Chasms (2009)

No, the place wasn't Pitchfork (although I've come to terms with its place in my music quest), and the album wasn't Neon Indian's. It was elsewhere, and they were actually talking about Washed Out's current year output. See, the gimmick here is these American guys are doing on a small scale with lo-fi recordings and "micro-labels" what British folks were doing in the '80s on a huge scale on Mtv. Darker sentiments, presented beatwise, and wrapped in sunny pop hooks.

Arguably, more than genre tags like "glo-fi" or The Wire critic David Keenan's "hypnagogic pop," but those labels can be useful, too...
- Pitchfork review of Life of Leisure (2009)

From what I gather, the leading light here is Memory Tapes (or Weird Tapes or Memory Cassette). As with anything so premature and ill-defined, there's a lot of variation between acts. This/these guy(s) seem to rein it in a bit - including some guitars, not getting so lost in the wooze... I dunno, my research was pretty limited. They do offer the more experimental, UK-only 22:22-minute bonus disc/track from their latest, "Treeship," for free download.
Seems like every other day, an evocatively named band would come about and contribute to this glo-fi/dreambeat/chill-wave thing that was perfect for those unbearably humid August nights rife with possibility...
- Pitchfork review of Seek Magic (2009)

So, what's wrong with just "indie-synthpop"? Hmmm... I think I'll throw in my own competing label - how about "bunnygl!tch"?

Along with the stylistic variables, there comes disagreement on who to include under the bunnygl!tch umbrella. In apparent descending order of consensus, there are: Small Black, Ducktails, DeLorean, Air France, jj, Real Estate, Pearl Harbour, Best Coast, Grouper, Ganglians, and Pocahaunted. And now we've clearly exited the sub-sub-genre, because I've actually heard Pocahaunted before.

Anyway, I thought you should know what's going on. Personally, I much prefer the hauntology style they're practising over at UK's Ghost Box (downloadables on artist's release pages), influenced by previous generations of studio-work at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Especially The Advisory Circle and Belbury Poly. It's generally more restrained and polite than the noisier bunnygl!tch stuff. But that's England for ya!

The Owl's Map

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