Trend topics 2010

2: #hypnagogic pop

Trend topics 2010  2: #hypnagogic pop Cristian Rodríguez By Cristian Rodríguez They’ve been around for a couple of seasons, and expanding in many directions, both in their more electronic and more pop forms (the latter aspect we’ll be analysing in this article). We’re talking about synonyms for hypnagogic music, chill-wave and glo-fi, labels that are perhaps in vain, but which are also perfect pet words to be applied to much of the music currently being written. The chaos in which current pop is floating, deformed by neo-psychedelics and overwhelmed by a thousand and one revivals against which it is obligated to react, required a term to bring order and agreement to the issue. This label can be used, in theory, for anything that is “nostalgic”, “domestic” and “glowing”. Don’t you know what those synthetic mists of the latest The Radio Dept. are getting at? Call it hypnagogic. Deerhunter’s songs rock you like when you were in the cradle? They must have something chill-wave. “Confirmation” by Wild Nothing , sounds to you like pure Ariel Pink? Ask Jack Tatum if he’s doing glo-fi. Unintentionally, the pseudo-genre has become the catch-all category of the moment, although it’s also clear that there is a sound that is eminently, specifically hypnagogic per se. What is it? I. Inception Let’s jog our memory and search for the moment when they placed the seed of all of this in our minds. A lot has happened since Simon Reynolds spoke of a “hauntology sound” to describe the productions of certain London artists who were trying to translate “what the people in previous decades imagined that the future would be like.” More recently, but still a long time ago, David Keenan, more specific than Reynolds, developed in The Wire the idea of talking about “a music that seemed to be suspended in drowsiness, in that space between wakefulness and sleep.” A music in which hallucinations that altered the perception of reality were recorded. The producers Keenan was referring to would have been born in the 80s and would be filtering their childhood into their music through their memories of that time. This is, in general terms, the movement’s foundation statement. Today the label has expanded so much that both points of departure have been constrained by the generic use made of the term. In fact, paradoxically, the theories of both British journalists have ended up giving a place to examples that are mainly American, at least in the area more inclined towards pop, not so much in electronic music. In other words, hypnagogia has ended up being the straw that broke the camel’s back when it comes to rigid terminology, perhaps because in a way, it is inevitable that listeners always end up defining the labels less according to what they are, and more according to what they want them to be. Well, then, what should we understand if we hear this word mentioned in 2010? There are more or less closed descriptions, like the one that speaks of “psychedelic synth-pop with an 80s influence that seems to come from outer space.” Various parameters have also been agreed upon as key when it comes to trying to define it. Brought before a jury and accused of hypnagogia, we could say that any musician who edits analogue sounds with blurry lines and a groggy effect may be declared guilty. Other characteristics: deformation of the narrative tempo, a profusion of synthesisers, the use of effects everywhere, nostalgia for adolescence, and a feeling of bewilderment in the face of all of these factors. Basically, hypnagogia is a question of texture, of a filter, of an escape route to hypnosis caused by other music. What’s more, we will emphasise that another of its reasons for being is the incorporation into its ethos of scraps of a thousand and one other revivals. In a way, this term has ended up becoming the mother of all revivals. And it has done so from the corner of a room. That is the big impact. Some of its main proponents reject the term and it still hasn’t sunk in with the majority of listeners, which makes it even more difficult to define. We can come to the aid of hypnagogia if we talk about Balearic gestures and the teen mannerisms of the followers of Sincerely Yours and if we talk about the influences of the acid constructivism of The Ruby Suns and “Fight Softly”. The aforementioned term is, in the end, an excuse. It has simply arisen because we needed a handle to keep the boundaries and infinite musical categories of the moment from getting out of hand. And it has also arrived as a curiosity with a wide-ranging premise and highly diverse results. But especially, as one possible answer in a million to an important question: what changed in the heart and on the margins of post-pop music between when Panda Bear put out “Person Pitch” and Animal Collective put out the crucial “Merriweather Post Pavilion”? II. Awakenings In order to locate the first recognisable attempts of the imploding of glo-fi, we should go back to March of 2007, when the praised album “Person Pitch” was released, as well as John Maus’s more underrated “Love Is Real”. Already in 2008, the concept started to spread to artists of renown: we met High Places, Bradford Cox put out his first solo work, and we became familiar with Nite Jewel, the real princess of this story, thanks to her candid “Good Evening”. Over and above many underground groups who were lost along the way, the following year the influence really stood out. Apart from some clues (the marvellous “nº 2” by jj ) and essences (the very important “Logos” from Atlas Sound), the label was institutionalised as it coincided in time with the release of the debuts of Washed Out, Toro Y Moi, Memory Tapes and Neon Indian. At the same time, from the other extreme, Matrix Metals released 125 cassette copies of their seminal “Flamingo Breeze”, much more chill-wave than all of them. Nevertheless, this wild card was increasingly played more than ever, when it began to expand like a poison gas, infecting everything along the way. In this sense, 2010 has been the year of the total influx, the year the dream became a reality. Besides the dozen albums that we propose below, the label seems to come from the factory already with numerous EPs, like those of oOoOO, Teen Daze, Balam Acab, Dunian, Pure Ecstacy or Active Child. Today, many of the bedroom producers of the pack enjoy an undeniable artistic status. The new messiahs of pop music, Ariel Pink and Bradford Cox, have just released the best titles of their respective careers. And if they’re the Father and the Son, the new work from the Holy Spirit, Noah Lennox, is anxiously awaited. At their feet, an immense generation of Peter Pans continues to lug around their stuff with all of the hope in the world. The horizon of possibilities opens wider all the time. Because the only thing that the hypnagogic generation seems to need to keep going is for the sun to rise every morning. III. The Rules of the Game T he Social Network . Hypnagogia has found its main testing ground, its best ally, on the Internet and on digital platforms. The majority of our artists don’t fight to get their download links removed from the Internet because they know that it is possibly the only way to get themselves known. So the movement is a pioneer in the sense that it is not generated through geographic concentration, but rather through the invisible connections generated by hypertext and the multiverse. Its dissemination has been gestated through the 2.0 community, in spaces that until recently were only consulted by indie bloggers – Gorilla Vs Bear, XXJFG– and which have ended up becoming media reference points that are more powerful than the printed press. In this sense, the repercussion of Pitchfork as a leader of opinion, almost like a deus ex machina, says it all. Exploding Plastic Inevitable. The hallucinations experienced during that state between wakefulness and sleep correspond to various sensory stimulations. Beyond the auditory—whispers coming from an alpha state, reverbs, psychophony and all sorts of filters for the voice—there are also visuals, exploited ostentatiously by the chill-wave pack, whether in the form of collages and impossible patchworks, or all sorts of anarchic and attractive designs. Henchmen, many of them visual artists, handle the chromatic palette of phosphorescent tones less violently and more abstractly than nu-rave did. This is where the glo-fi contraction and visual style of most of the blogs that have given voice to the movement come from. Hypnagogia is phosphorescent, blurry, loud, and cosmic, like a galaxy shining in the middle of the darkness of the cosmos. It overlays different layers without order or agreement, and is fed mainly from the aesthetic schools of kitsch and retrofuturism. The screen savers of the e-zine Altered Zones are a sample of its visual possibilities. Halcyon +on +on. The chill-wave newcomers praise sonic and visual references that they took in during their childhood, as the heirs of television and videogames, and they rescue the coolness of deliberately camp styles for the cause, like pop-midi, italo disco, eurodance, or the entire new romantic school. They are artists who root around in the archives of yesteryear with an intensity similar to that of library music, which could lead us to consider names like Broadcast or Boards of Canada as what, proto-hypnagogic? The result of all of this is the transformation of the out-of-date, the old-fashioned, and everything that smells of low quality into the cream of the crop of the moment. A good example is the boom in the rancid sound of AM. And as if that weren’t enough, the old formats are all the rage. Deerhunter aren’t the only ones who put out cassettes: Ducktails started like that, Washed Out, Ariel Pink, Dirty Beaches and Wet Hair love to release CD-Rs and 7”s with very limited runs, and others, like Matrix Metals, condemn themselves to ostracism by releasing solely on tape. Yes, any time in the past was better. Home alone . Paradigmatic examples such as that of Houses –a debut composed in a shack in the middle of the jungle– or the various projects of Dayve Hawk –Memory Tapes, Memory Cassette and Weird Tapes are gestated from isolation with his family in a semi-rural area—show that another of the keys to these type of bedroom productions lies in their misanthropy and the safeguarding of their privacy above all else. In the face of sophistication, and under the weight of an economic crisis that has left almost all of us seeing it headed straight for us, the “less is more” and “do-it-yourself” have crystallised into a series of miniscule voices that make themselves heard armed with the minimum technical equipment necessary. Dayve Hawk and Tom Krell ( How to Dress Well), for example, state that financial limitations have determined and limited the sound of their recording debuts, although at the same time they recognise that this sound is deliberate in great measure, and as anti-commercial as can be, of course. 100% Recyclable. As Tom Madsen said in these same pages, hypnagogia, more than a revival, “is a recreation in the present of a music that one can’t remember exactly, perhaps because one never listened to it well.” This I agree with, but it would be a mistake not to recognise the great drawing power of the movement if we understand its backbone as having brought an endless number of revivals to agreement. It seems like the hangover of the 80s could only be left behind once all of its allies had agreed that it was the decade to beat. Nevertheless, and although it is primordially 80s, glo-fi has absorbed absolutely everything that it has seen moving around it, whether it is ambient, synth-pop, lo-fi, shoegaze, new age, dream-pop, drone, Balearic, post-pop, indietronic, neo-psychedelic, tropical, lounge, dub, chill-out, kosmische music or trance. And it has done so encoding it according to a new order that has given rise to projects with premises that are as different as their results are similar. IV. Ten of 2010 Below is a list of this year’s titles that might contain traces of hypnagogia. It is a subjective list that, in a way, seeks to inventory the different aspects that have ended up mutating the precepts of the style. Of course there have been more albums that could be mentioned, many more. Names that have had greater repercussion could have been included, such as Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti –and the excellent album “Before Today”, with which the great guru of all of this tries to distance himself from the label—or Twin Shadow, and others that have yet to stand out entirely, like the radical Growing, or Rangers, Memoryhouse, Walls, and Lake Râ–²dio. Even the imminent “Arcade Dynamics” from Ducktails, expected in the first week of 2011, could have been slipped in. Anyway, if they aren’t here, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t hypnagogic, just that all of those here definitely are. By the way, a curiosity that is also worth noting: the list has turned out to be 100% American. Atlas Sound: “Bedroom Databank Vol. 1, 2, 3 & 4” ( This year, Bradford Cox intellectualised adolescent nostalgia to the max with the latest work by Deerhunter. No one could imagine that those wonderful years had more to give, but he, not content with putting out one of the most prodigious albums of the season, and seemingly unintentionally, has released four volumes of home recordings off the top of his head—almost three hours of music—full of hypnagogic corners, songs he didn’t know where to put, he didn’t want to fall into oblivion, and which have now fortunately ended up curling up next to us. Thanks again, Bradford. Blackbird Blackbird: “Summer Heart” (Blackbird Blackbird) This “summer heart” was released last July and couldn’t have come from anywhere except the Californian west coast. From the part of the globe that has given us the greatest number of surprises this year, its creator Mikey Sanders hasn’t stopped in 2010. He has put out various singles and EPs, this LP, and disparate remixes, among them Warpaint’s “Undertow” and Modest Mouse’s “Float On”. For the time being, while he gets together a band that he can tour with, this new glo-fi electro-pop suit that he has designed for himself looks very good on his hardcore past. The blackbird has taken flight. Candy Claws: “Hidden Lands” (Pid) The point of departure that the music of Ryan Hover and Kay Bertholf comes from is hard to situate. It’s a sort of electrocuted neo-psychedelic music, naturalistic and bucolic, and it’s hard to find its forerunners. “Hidden Lands”, their mysterious debut as Candy Claws, shines like radioactive residue found in the weeds, and it intoxicates everything around it with wild ambient mists. The hypnosis achieved gets around evident handicaps without your noticing them much—it’s impossible to trap the songs– and it is perfect for recharging your batteries after the downer of the fussy “Vs Mankind” from the similar High Places. Electric Sunset: “Electric Sunset” (K Records) Nicolas Zwart’s new project has really taken a beating. The critics have panned his sweet recording debut, merely for being hypnagogic… and nothing else. Even though it’s coming from the sacred K Records! Some will say that here there is only money, the moment and mannerisms, but it is undeniable that we are looking at one of the works that best fits the coordinates of the style, bringing it close to conventional pop without arrogance or flightiness. Zwart, until now the leader of the absent yet intriguing Desolation Wilderness, smiles harmlessly from the cover. One can’t bear not to compliment him. Geneva Jacuzzi: “Lamaze” (ZombieShark) Geneva Garvin forms a part of the Los Angeles group of experimental artists Human Ear Music, where we also find hypnagogic royalty like Nite Jewel and Ariel Pink. As mystical as she is mischievous, Geneva also unfolds her artistic personality visually—she has designed the occasional cover for Ariel—and musically, where she filters her cold-wave tendencies through chill-wave parameters. Her “Lamaze” sounds extraterrestrial and is a scream, sewn from unfinished bits and scraps of leather torn from the least-respectable sacred cows of the 80s. Is she the Norma Loy of the movement? She might be. Houses: “All Night” (Lefse) In spite of his pompous name, Dexter Tortoriello is the most austere producer on the list. He went to Hawaii with his girlfriend Megan and from a shack in the middle of the jungle they gave birth to this transparent miniature with epidermal effects, with no more company than the sky and the earth. “All Night” doesn’t seem to need anything to make sense. It is impossible not to feel affection for this placid calm, this rebellion against abundance approached like an inventory of “less is more” goodness. Houses has given hypnagogia some well-deserved IDM holidays, and the good vibrations, of course, flow easily. How To Dress Well: “Love Remains” (Lefse) The worst thing about being half-asleep is nightmares, and this fascinating debut, one of the most original of the year, warns of intriguing, gloomy possibilities for the expansion of the genre. Tom Krell is the dark beast, the prodigal son, the black sheep of chill-wave. In order to inoculate us with his particular deconstruction of R&B splattered with drone, he slathers Vaseline all over his project HTDW and dresses it in leather, managing to hold hands with witch-house along the way. “Love Remains” is an alien that is as evasive as its author in his interviews. A naked, demanding body. An enthralling mystery. Julian Lynch: “Mare” (Olde English Spelling Bee) An Ethnomusicology student, Julian Lynch is the greatest theorist of this entire undertaking. Keenan labelled him hypnagogic, and, among other things, hit the nail on the head by concluding that with this label “a series of musicians are being grouped according to their methods and not so much according to their results.” He has taken the bedroom producer thing to new heights by offering concerts at a distance, using a webcam. It’s no wonder that some have even called his music post-hypnagogic. This year he put out a restful third album, whose slow, wild airs situate it fairly close to Vincent Gallo’s earthy “When”. That’s saying a lot. Small Black: “New Chain” (Jagjaguwar) The debut LP from New York’s Small Black –with members of Pyschobuildings in their ranks– is another of the delights of the season. Like the Electric Sunset debut, “New Chain” tries to bring order and harmony to the slippery world of hypnagogic possibilities, with the aid of Nicolas Vernhes (keep in mind, a collaborator of Animal Collective and Dirty Projectors). Their solution consists of creating an ultra-modern, hoity-toity dream-pop, orgasmically evocative and celebratory in live performances. Keyboard player Ryan Heyner explains: “ The majority of the best music surprises you stealthily.” You aren’t kidding, Ryan. Sun Araw: “On Patrol” (Not Not Fun) “On Patrol”, besides having one of the covers of the year, is probably the album that is the most distant from the rest of the coordinates set out in this list. And due to its affected gravity and its dilated, dense experimentalism, it is also the most complex. But hey, Animal Collective’s first albums were amorphous, and look where they are now. Sun Araw, the project of former member of Pocahaunted Cameron Stallones, incorporates new ingredients into the hypnagogia recipe—70s prog, afrobeat, oriental influences and field recordings amongst other things—to give shape to a musical kaleidoscope that is as perennial as it is singular.

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