Toro Y Moi and other outsiders of bedroom pop inch their way in
A backyard shed, a basement, a kitchen, a cabin in Shenandoah National Park--bedroom pop needn't be recorded in a bedroom. Emergent songwriters Kurt Vile, Tickley Feather, Ducktails, and Toro Y Moi--all making indie music characterized by a certain manner of lo-fi production and devil-may-care attention to conventional song structure and genre that comes less from aesthetic rebellion than genuine outsiderness--have all put their music to tape in the above spaces. They are not converted studios or the locations of engineer friends' recording setups, but places where the artists could be/had to be alone.
Together, they comprise a movement, what's been dubbed "AM pop"--more as a term relating to recording quality than the actual music made during AM music radio's heyday, save for an immense pool of Beach Boys love--bedroom pop, or just pop music recorded in a deep well. And as Kurt Vile joins with Matador Records, Tickley Feather and Toro Y Moi join with Washington, D.C.'s Carpark Records (Dan Deacon's home label), and outsider-cum-bedroom pop impresario Ariel Pink joins with indie standard 4AD, all within the last half of 2009, it's a movement with traction. Beach House, part of whose initial charm way back in 2006 (when its self-titled album, recorded in two days in a basement, was released), was spareness and the not-quite-empty aural spaces of music recorded on the cheap with feeling, has a new home on Sub Pop.
As an aesthetic club, bedroom pop could be seen as an outgrowth of, or at least born from the same circumstances as "shitgaze," the movement involving intentionally blown-out/sandblasted/tape-hissed recordings of sharp pop-punk songs that captured the hearts of electro-tired music bloggers over the past few years. But this isn't that; so much of shitgaze was just well-done songwriting busted-up in process. The Hunches put Velvet Underground nostalgia through a Stooges filter and found bombast gold; Eat Skull soaked TSOL's hooky hardcore in cheap beer and sunshine; Wavves created a surf-rock apocalypse.
There's more to bedroom pop than a rough finish, crude audio smear, or shitgaze's apparently only non-aesthetic conviction of being bored with stuff. Save for San Diego's Wavves--which imploded onstage famously at a festival earlier this year--most of the latter's crowd came from earlier punk, hardcore, and indie-rock bands, compiling into a rich field of know-how. Our new heroes, the outsiders, don't much know-how or care-how in any conventional sense.
A semi-famous treatise by Half Japanese's David Fair on "How to Play the Guitar," explains something important:
Of course he's not just talking about guitar, but outsider music as a whole, music that succeeds not so much because it breaks rules, but because it didn't know they were there in the first place. Which also means that it's disorienting to listen to. Animal Collective, as much of a common thread between this current bumper crop of solo bedroom artists as anything, sets a very loose stylistic model, which, say what you will about Animal Collective hype, is genuinely freeform. Start with deep-rooted pop affection, and just go crazy: droney/ambient backdrops, nods to folk, electronics, psychedelia, and, most importantly, the wholesale scuttling of song structure. Disorienting, yes, but as alluring as pop comes.
Take Toro Y Moi, aka South Carolinian Chaz Bundick, who's been making music by himself since 2001, but is just now getting a public showing. The songs collected for the released-next-month Causers of This are idiosyncratic, wonderful outsider-pop easy listening. Littered with sudden drops in pitch--like someone put their finger down on a record--"Blessa" crackles in big, symphonic, ambient sworls over sharp and trebly, unexpectedly heavy beats, with vocals that ring a little too close to Animal Collective's Panda Bear. "Talamek" hits even harder, a stitched-together, oddly sampled homage to '80s dance, while "Freak Love" is a strangely easy-to-digest number of queer dubbing and glitch, molded into an epileptic disco-light freak show. But for all its dance-music homage, it feels more like someone played Bundick a grip of old Motown records and, a few years later, had him recreate it with an electronic pile of . . . stuff.
Would all of this mean the same thing without an "outsider" tag? And aesthetics aside, is that outsiderness part of the allure, with fans and record labels hounding after weirdo loners? This is, after all, the time of public Jandek, outsider music's highest totem. Maybe indie music's incest, industry, and brazen mimicry have finally worn thin, and it's hunting for its creative firewood elsewhere. In any case, the question remains as to what happens to any of these artists, Jandek included, when they become, well, inside.
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