It’s not really that surprising that people are beginning to talk about chillwave like it means something. Not that the genre’s slightly questionable moniker helps much; if there’s one thing to be immediately gleaned from Psychic Chasms, it’s that Neon Indian aren’t here to chill anyone out. But then “chillwave” sounds like something that’s pretty cool and, in one very appropriate way, that’s really all that matters.
The simple fact is that chillwave is pretty cool. It does just about everything cool music should do. It paves new ground with the kind of homespun invention, artisanship and effortlessness that forces happy sighs of incredulity from admirers, but all the while it remembers to pay its respects to the borrowed nostalgia to which it is indebted. And it’s not so much music-based nostalgia (Psychic Chasms doesn’t really imitate anything), or even cultural nostalgia that Alan Palomo (the Texan behind Neon Indian) plays on.
It’s just nostalgia itself. Y’know, that fuzzy, sunny, dreamy feeling that comes around every now and again. It’s mainly there to make us happy and flush our minds full of fond memories of childhood. And it’s not the whole of childhood (as if whole childhoods are even approaching happy). It’s the snippets that made childhood tolerable. That bit at home, just after school, in company with the best TV programming ever made. That bit playing Mario from 7am until… 7am, when having to sleep was the summer’s biggest irritation.
But the thing Psychic Chasms does really well is when it conveys the most confounding thing about nostalgia: that muddled melancholic bit that serves as happy times’ backdrop. Psychic Chasms is pretty much a happy record. Both opener (AM) and Deadbeat Summer are replete with psychedelic rainbow washes of synths, chiptune sampling and beats and claps that are as faded and wash-worn as vintage clothes. Terminally Chill is basically Daft Punk given the chillwave treatment. And there are plenty more summer=happy examples. But there’s something about the album’s processed sway FX and its warbling busted cassette treatment that gives it a character most electronic recordings would spend far too much time and money in the studio trying to create. Or maybe that’s just nostalgia again.
As well as the sound of busted TDK-90s played on even more busted tape decks, Psychic Chasms harbours the sound of dreams (or is that memories?) born in childhood bedrooms. They’re not big dreams; they’re more like humble hopes. Like making a mixtape so good that the girl who wears the leather jacket that’s actually more beautiful than she is will blush when she sees the tracklisting.
But behind these recollections is the kind of dashed hope and dull sense of regret summed up by both 6699 (I Don’t Know If You Know) and Should Have Taken Acid With You. Constantly, Psychic Chasms keeps saying: times were good. But occasionally, it asks: could they could have been… better? It’s the kind of feeling that nags, somewhere dug in deep, for an entire life. Ultimately, it’s up to nostalgia’s beholder to look back either happily or with a choke of sadness. Psychic Chasms just makes it all seem a bit more fun.