It was the middle of 2009, arguably the worst year for music in all the 2000’s. Albums kept pouring in but hardly anything was sticking. As if this feeling of stagnation was contagious to all genres, the summer yielded a plethora of artists that were playing a brand of pop that steeped itself in hazy electronics and indistinct vocals. If nostalgia came in a can, these groups would have sprayed their songs with it until they were thoroughly soaked. Nostalgia was their lifeblood, and the movement, formally known as chillwave, was either a refreshing deviation in texture or a further degradation of indie pop, depending on whom you asked. However, with all these arguments taking place, all that knew of the genre’s emergence could agree on one thing: that it was all ushered in through Washed Out’s “Feel It All Around”.
While far from revelatory, “Feel It All Around” always had an advantage because it did an excellent job of embodying pure bliss. Its analog keyboards were muted, its guitar chords light. Like much of the music that tried to copy its success, it seemed to embody less the good times of the past and more of the dreams recalling those good times, a song that could only truly be appreciated while watching something fun happen in slow motion as opposed to just experiencing it. It was a very agreeable summer jam, but I don’t think even Washed Out mastermind, Ernest Greene, knew how influential it would turn out to be.
Two years later, the state of chillwave in the musical lexicon is just as harshly debated as its musical merits were when it first emerged. There is no doubt that what is called the “blissed out” sound has had a significant effect on this decade’s popular music. However, if you ask this critic, that influence has not been particularly fruitful since that fateful summer of 2009. Many of the genre’s defining qualities have been dissolved into the sounds of lo-fi garage bands that no one should really care about, Toro Y Moi’s follow-up to his 2010 debut was good but not great, and Washed Out’s finally released debut album is hardly something to marvel at.