Thursday, October 13, 2011

Review: Girlhood - Surfs Pure Hearts (Holy Page, 2011)



Girlhood’s Surfs Pure Hearts appears to be an another artist following the airy, blurry 80’s/early 90’s nostalgia occupying the territory somewhere between “psychedelic drone” and chillwave. Too varied and beat-based to be considered the first and too abstract and not enough articulated and catchy to be considered the latter. I tend to categorize this category of music as “vaporwave” (similarly to “vaporware” type of software) – projects trying to the replicate retro feel of the older decades (analog synths etc.) with shy beat structures and New Age-y and old computer imagery. Girlhood is one of them.
Side A of the cassette  opens with delicate Stellar Om Source-y synths interspersed with washes of white noise which simulate the sound of crashing waves. The sound cuts abruptly into another lo-fi ambient meditation with shy, quiet notes giving way to more futuristic, techno/IDM-ish sounds with thumping bass on top. But this is no dancefloor banger – the rhythm is irregular and is used more to set the pace to a lethargic monologue with barely recognizable lyrics. The sound is rough around the edges and gives an alienated, unfinished feel at times. As if some songs were yet to be enriched with more sounds, more vocals or a better production but basic mix master tape accidentally went to the plant and bam, the tape’s here. Despite the dancey, beat-oriented settings the tracks are more like minimal meditations for focused headphone listening or lounging in a dark club very late at night with just a few people.
The tape manages to keep an air of mystery and uncertainty. For example, it’s hard to tell whether the droning, melancholic sounds on “Purity Kiss” are synthesizer sounds or mangled and processed Gregorian chanting taken from one of those horribly clichéd “modern Gregorian” CD’s popular in the 90’s, which took medieval church music and blended it with a cookie-cutter, mid-tempo electronic sounds. The vocal samples and lazy, indifferent vocals together with an artwork consisting of pretty, serif fonts and gentle gradients remind me of those cool  Tumblr blogs which post b&w photos of indifferent looking models in sharp, ultra-expensive clothes (some of them actually do like expensive clothes, other look like a homeless person’s attire), pics of inverted crosses and burning churches (for a “shock effect”) and minimal modern art. Side B of the tape retains more of the distorted mutant techno feel with barely recognizable vocals above thumping bass and silky synth lines (delicate like ocean spray) plodding their way through the disco.
It’s hard to tell whether Girlhood will try to build a career on their sound or whether it will be lost forever in the maze of endless other tapes released in small editions. As the name suggests, “vaporwave” might have an extremely short span – it might be just a fleeting fad no one will hear about in a few years or might become the next chillwave. Time will tell whether we’ll be rocking out to indifferent techno-ish sounds or zoning out to dronestep in 2016.

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