The primal bellow of the The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is unmistakable. For over 20 years, the band has blazed a path uniquely and entirely their own, pioneering an inimitable, cacophonous, and burly blend of punk and blues. Though the band decided to take a break after 2004′s Damage, it wasn’t long before lead singer/guitarist Jon Spencer, drummer Russell Simins, and guitarist Judah Bauer were back together writing and recording again. The result of the last few years is Meat and Bone, a classic return to form for the New York three–piece. We recently caught up with Spencer to talk about the changing face of rock ‘n’ roll promotion, social media, and why the passage of time plays a big thematic role on the new record.
OS: After your recent hiatus, what spurred you, Judah, and Russell to start writing together again?
JS: Playing concerts again. That’s what did it. In 2007, the label In The Red put out a compilation of a bunch of singles that we had done for them over the years. So, after that there was something of a renewed interest in The Blues Explosion, and in summer 2008 me and Judah and Russell figured, “Well why not take a few shows?” We went over to Europe and played a few festivals and enjoyed doing it, so we kept playing and took more concerts. About a year and a half ago we began writing songs and thinking about making an album. That followed along naturally, quite organically, out of the return to playing live and touring.
Seth Haley wears a lot of hats. A designer by day, Haley has a second life as a producer/DJ/remixer. Under the moniker Com Truise, Haley has released a handful of EPs worth of material and done remixes for artists like Neon Indian and Twin Shadow. Most notably, his remix work was featured on the Tron: Legacy Reconfigured record, a collection of songs from the film of the same name as reinterpreted by a number of big time producers including Boys Noize, The Crystal Method and Moby. His output thus far has already made him the darling of tastemaker bloggers like ISO50 and EARMILK, and he’s even had one of his tracks mashed up with Lil Wayne‘s “John (If I Die Tomorrow)” via The Hood Internet. The results are unsurprisingly baller.
This, along with the reception to his material has led to a steadily rising profile, so it’s not too surprising that his full length debut, Galactic Melt, received the official streaming debut treatment on The Hype Machine. However, Com Truise is still a relatively enigmatic project. It’s fitting that he’s on the Ghostly International roster along with fellow mysterious knob-twiddlers Phantogram, Dabrye and Matthew Dear. Like the work of much of his labelmates, Haley is a borrower. Pulling from hip hop, post-punk and funk, he wraps his influences in a hazy, gauzy veil of synth. I’m just going to come out and say it: if you don’t care for synth or ’80s fetishizing, then this is not the record for you. You can stop reading, you won’t be interested in it.
Do we still have most of you? Good, because Galactic Melt, Com Truise’s debut, is nothing to sleep on. The ’80s influence is so strong here that the record feels like a remnant of the tape deck in your friend’s Delorean. Haley himself describes the album as, “sort of film score… from the mind” and it lives up to that heady descriptor. Com Truise’s work up until this point was defined by, among other things, a distinctly cracked aesthetic. Sudden diversions such as abrupt changes in melody or rhythm were typical. While such idiosyncrasies worked before, the material on the record is a much more direct and focused collection of material and it benefits from this increased cohesion.
“Terminal” functions well enough as a intro to the record, setting the narcotized atmosphere for the rest of the album early on. Galactic Melt really starts about forty seconds into “VHS Sex” when a stuttering 808 kick emerges from the trilling synth mix and absolutely owns the track. Songs like “VHS Sex”, “Air Cal” and “Hyperlips” are all swagger and it’s a shame that moments like this aren’t explored more fully on the record. However, Galactic Melt benefits from the overall diversity of emotion that the tracks explore. “Brokendate” and “Glawio”, showing up near the tail end of the record, are both longing for something or someone and “Cathode Girls” notably recalls Com Truise’s earlier, more fractured sound.
The most glaringly obvious influence on this record is the ’80s, but it’s more interesting to pick out the other strands running through the album. There are many moments that feel a lot like Boards of Canada with a modern, accessible update. The hip hop feel of a lot of the tracks, the strong rhythmic beat, keeps many of the songs from spiraling out of control. Those little, subtle touches—the New Ordery bass line in “Cathode Girls”, the record scratches on “Glawio”— are what make the record. Too many instruemental records stagnate; the tracks song to song are too samey, the record can’t hold the interest of the listener with a vocal accompaniment. On Galactic Melt, everything is shimmering all the time. It’s a beautiful thing.
Being a young band just starting out in the business is hard. This is a news flash to no one, and thus not the topic of this week’s Beat Generation column. But how hard must it be to get your band off the ground when no one can agree what your genre is? Or worse, if people argue that your genre isn’t real?
Chillwave (also known as hypnagogic pop or, ugh, glo-fi) is a word heavy with connotation for music nerds. A buzzy, bloggy genre which emerged in 2009 and quickly became the trendy, hip(ster) electronic genre of the moment, chillwave was, and still is, a contentious term. Many would state that it’s not even a real genre of music. If you believe the Wall Street Journal, Hipster Runoff basically invented chillwave in this blog post here. To be honest, there may be some credence to that.
It is clear that chillwave—lacking in geographic cohesion, a web-generated origin and following coupled with a very small roster of prominent artists who would fit the descriptions of the sound, let alone cop to being “chillwave” themselves—is a kind of music which needs more history, needs to be fleshed out more before it can posses a true character.
Having just said that, itlooks like 2011 is going to be a big year for those “chillwavers” or “chillwavians” or “chillwavites” (which one is correct?). We’ve seen album announcements in the past few weeks from many of the genre’s more prominent acts including upcoming releases from Neon Indian, Memory Tapes and Washed Out. However, Toro Y Moi got the first shot in when he released his sophomore effort Underneath the Pine this past February to favorable reviews. It’s worth noting that there is a stylistic shift in sound between this year’s release and Chaz Bundwick’s 2010 debut Causers of This. From fractured, shimmering J Dilla-influenced productions to slinky, sly funk-pop with an awesome throwback vibe. Groovy, yes. But is it cool enough, lo-fi enough to be chillwave?
Neon Indian’s upcoming Heart Attack, slated for release this summer looks like something more like what we’ve come to expect from these musicians. A teaser clip featuring main player Alan Palomo shuffling around a snowy Helsinki gives us a taste what his new record will sound like: chilly but not chill, hazy-trippy and stylish as all get out. You can check it out for yourself below.
Washed Out made a splash (haha) last week with the announcement of mastermind Ernest Greene’s signing to Sub Pop, the release of the sexy album art for his new record Within and Without and the first track “Eyes Be Closed”. Greene’s project may have the highest stakes and be the most anticipated of all the potential chillwave releases coming up this year. He arguably had the biggest “hit” with his breakthrough track “Feel It All Around” and he’s the only major chillwave artist who hasn’t had a full length release before this year. Honestly, after hearing about his wedding many thought it might take a bit longer for Greene to crank out a proper debut. But here we are.
What’s the unifying theme here? There might be some common threads, underlying attributes that link these bands, stylistically speaking. The nostalgia, a disco influence and the hazy removal are all touchstones that these bands have in common. And we just mentioned some of the players; other prominent chillwave bands that come to mind include Small Black, MillionYoung, Teen Daze and whole slew of other bands of that ilk. Also, some OurStagers have gotten in on the chillwave movement. After all, 3D Friends, winner of the MTV “SKINS THEME SONG COMPETITION” actually describes himself as a chillwave artist. That said, is it all enough to make it a genre? Is 2011 the year of chillwave?
We don’t have the answers to those questions. But these bands are coming out with a lot of quality material in the near future. If the term chillwave isn’t good enough, I hope someone figures out something else that works. The music deserves it.
The MTV “SKINS THEME SONG COMPETITION” launched in October, offering artists across the country a chance to have their song featured on the upcoming US adaptation of the smash UK teen drama SKINS. Daniel Chavez, also known by his moniker 3D Friends, came to OurStage with the hopes of getting his music out to some new audiences. The Austin, Texas-based songwriter considers his music a contribution to the “Chillwave” movement, comparing himself to artists such as Neon Indian and Bradford Cox.
Chavez entered his song “Lina Magic” in the MTV “SKINS THEME SONG COMPETITION” which caught the attention of the music supervisors for the show. Chavez will have his song featured as the theme song when the show debuts to national audiences in January of 2011. As a result of entering the competition on OurStage, his music will be broadcast weekly to millions of viewers nationwide. Stay tuned to MTV when Chavez’s winning song “Lina Magic” debuts on SKINS in January 2011. To hear the winning song now, or listen to more music from 3D Friends, head to Chavez’s OurStage profile HERE.
Post Post has “a sound that falls somewhere within the realm of earnest, melodic indie pop meets post-riot grrrl era rock meets synth-ridden new wave.” These 4 rockers are making waves in the Philadelphia music scene as a new, young group full of style, talent with dash of resourcefulness. Their demo EP, Meta Meta, was recorded during a 2-day camp out session at their college ’s multicultural center with 2 mics and garageband. To date, the band has opened for top acts such as Vivian Girls, Rachel Cantu and Neon Indian, among many others.
Keep an eye out for the band’s next EP due out in July. As part of this weeks Needle in the Haystack selection, Post Post is giving away their song, “Drafts.” Keep an eye out for an interview on MTV Music, Tweet & A and follow up at the end of the week!