Oct. 6, 2010
As a compilation and mix concept, Fuck Dance, Let’s Art sounds hazy before you even begin discussing the music. Theories crumble, according to the compilation’s own description, when trying explain the current wave of lo-fi, synth-heavy nostalgic bedroom production. And attempting a timely, authoritative statement about a decentralized, Internet-driven scene seems bound to be frustrating. It doesn’t help when some acts are less-than SEO friendly and self-applied genre tags like shitgaze mock the whole genre concept in itself. The “escapist music from the youth of a crumbling superpower” angle even gets a passing reference on the comp’s microsite. After everything this country has been through in the last decade, chillwave is not the soundtrack of American decline.
Where’s the definitive narrative in music built in part from obscured samples and dance rhythms, evocative of a gauzy nostalgia and often decorated with deliberately unpolished cover art? Fuck Dance, Let’s Art doesn’t quite spell it out, if it is there to be spelled out, or offer anything new. Exploring how tools and trends have conspired to bestow authenticity to homespun productions of digital detritus seems beside the point. But its roster–notable omissions such as Neon Indian and Salem non-withstanding–does provide a crash course on this ill-defined movement. The inclusion of a Phenomenal Handclap Band song and HEALTH remix of Crystal Castles provide some broader context and Animal Collective’s glittering “My Girls” touches on a future tribal sound (though the song’s direct embrace of adult pressures seems contrary to the album’s escapist threads). Boundaries are left undefined when you have chillwave acts like Washed Out next to a newer class of artists like Slava and Peter’s House Music.
The title of one of the tracks, Toro Y Moi’s “Fax Shadow”–a suspended song with a distorted, bumpy bass line that sounds as warped as unspooled tape being fed back into a reel–speaks to a shared fetishization of retro technology and a drive to add analog wear to digital production. Along with Small Black’s “Despicable Dogs” and Balam Acab’s “See Birds”, it exemplifies intensely personal songcraft and perhaps touches on early adult uncertainty. As a takeaway from this compilation, it seems to suggest that, as exciting as some of these producers are, in many ways the new underground isn’t that different from the old underground.