Leave Chillwave Alone

In defense of the nostalgia-steeped genre Ariel Pink both invented and abandoned

In "Hardcore Pops Are Fun," from 2006's House Arrest, Pink provided a kind of hymn/manifesto for this generation's ahistorical omnivorousness: "Pop music is free/For you and me . . . Pop music is wine/It tastes so divine." But he still had a foot in '90s irony ("Hardcore Pops" was actually recorded in 2001). Archness gets burned off completely in the music of those that came after him, replaced by an earnestness that aspires to spirituality. You can see the sensibility in both the music of key figures like James Ferraro and Sun Araw, and in the writing of Altered Zones contributors like 20 Jazz Funk Greats: hyper-referentiality without irony. From a distance it looks like postmodernism, but really it's something else: a mystical merger of Pop Art and psychedelia.

Earnestness is one of the defining attributes of "digimodernist" culture identified by the theorist Alan Kirby—other hallmarks are "onwardness" and "endlessness." On Altered Zones and its constellation of blogs, the flow is relentless: What matters is always the next new name, the latest micro-genre, another MP3 or MediaFire. Artist careers likewise are a continuous drip-drip-drip of releases, a dozen or more per year—there's no reason to edit or hold back, every reason to keep one's name out there. Stimuli streams in, largely via the Web; creativity streams out, largely via the Web. Today's musician is a pure screen, a switching center for all the networks of influence. (That's me echo-jamming Eighties Baudrillard, by the way).

Which brings us back to Pitchfork's decision to create a sibling site. Why couldn't they just process the output from all these zones themselves, sort wheat from chaff? The answer perhaps is that there's just too much of the stuff, and that filtering doesn't seem to be quite the thing to do with it. This scene is about being engulfed and enthused, carried along by the currents of the new. Drifting not sifting. Before Today made the Top Tens of most of the blogs that make up this restless circuit, but, one senses, mostly out of sentimental loyalty to the forefather. Signed to a big label, touring to promote his big album, praised and profiled by big magazines, Pink no longer really belongs to the underground. Whether that now puts him in limbo, and whether any of his chill-dren (the most promising, Toro Y Moi and Neon Indian, both add Daft Punk to the mix) will follow him there, remains to be seen.

Ariel Pink, already past it
Courtesy Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
Ariel Pink, already past it

Details

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
"Round and Round"
(#8 single),
Before Today
(#16 album)

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