Generic categories can often be more hindrance than help, especially in music. No sooner does a sound get defined than that definition does its work of reducing a diverse field of activity to something artificially limited and contained. Of course, genres can also allow us as listeners and makers to understand our tastes, find new objects of interest, and create with intention. So, it is with a mix of meanings that a new word like “chillwave” is birthed and used. There were those who crowded ’round the cradle cooing at that little, budding genre, wishing hopefully for it to grow into a strong, healthy movement, as well as those who took that birth announcement as a chance to pounce on a new object for derision — an emblem of the relative vacuity of popular music in the late aughties.
Well, for good or ill, Teen Daze (nom de plume of Jamison, a Vancouver-based musician of whom scant biographical information is shared) is a rider on that particular wave of generic articulation, though one who has been a fringe player more than a pack leader. Following a series of blog-touted remixes and singles in 2009 and 2010, there were several EP-like releases on Bandcamp leading up to last summer, which saw Lefse Records’ more formal release of A Silent Planet, a concept EP inspired by Jamison’s reading of C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet. Droning yet sweetly melodic and drowning in reverb, it emphasized Teen Daze’s connections with shoegaze and space rock but with a lighter touch than either genre typically features. However, coming late in summer 2011, it seemed to miss its chance to be the perfect comedown album for that season’s sweltering dance parties.
Now, with a first official full length, All of Us, Together, the timing seems to be right for maximum summer enjoyment, but the formula has changed. Both more beat-driven and playful, it seems more likely to be a component part of a dance floor mix than the postscript for one. The shimmering synth intro of “Treten” quickly gives way to a steady bass thump and drum gallop, and from there the tempo remains rather steady throughout the course of the album, somewhere on a dance-friendly plateau of 120 bpm. This gives the album a rather consistent feel that both creates a clear sense of character while also making it possible to slide under one’s radar (or, perhaps more appropriately, sonar). Having greatly enjoyed A Silent Planet for its captivating beauty, I was surprised at how, after several spins, All of Us, Together simply wasn’t making any deep impression on me.
There are some moments of dynamic shift, particularly between tracks — for instance the shift from the cool, purposeful synths of “Cold Hands” to the warm swell of organ drone that washes through in the opening of “For Body and Kenzie” — however, even that eventually leads into a throbbing beat and arpeggiated synth lines. Ultimately, there is a small palette of sounds that, along with the album’s stable pulse, define All of Us, Together. In that, it achieves a streamlined soundscape; it has a definite charm, but the textural shifts that have colored earlier Teen Daze work are largely absent. This sets it apart from most chillwave, which could be a conscious move so as to not be mired in a passing era, but the track that comes closest to that sound, “The Future,” the only track featuring vocals carefully buried in the mix and more hazy synths, is easily the standout of the LP.
I’m left torn. I admire Teen Daze for doing something scaled-back and minimal with his sound at the same time that I’m left wanting some of the more psychedelic-tinged eclecticism that marked earlier efforts. All of Us, Together doesn’t feel right as the first full-length statement being made by an artist of this caliber, but it definitely serves as an appealingly breezy 45 minutes of summer dance music. Yet, given that I’ve been listening to this in tandem with a freely-available streaming EP, Ambient Guitar and Piano #1, which shows an even more minimalist approach to soundscape design, I have to think that I won’t ultimately remember this as a disappointing first complete step into the limelight, but rather as a pleasing entry within an innovative and protean artist’s body of work.