(Hippos in Tanks, 2011)
My initial plan, before I’d even listened to a note of Forever, was to use it as an example in a passionate takedown of chillwave as an entire genre. Sleep ∞ Over was to be Exhibit A in my prosecutorial arguments, wherein I’d detail the specifics of how chillwave’s rise as an offshoot of dream and, gah, hypnagogic pop quickly became a fad all too eagerly adopted and mimicked by any home-recording musician with a modicum of know-how. It was less about how the band’s full-length debut actually sounded, and more about me taking down anyone who had championed a sound that, while pleasant on the surface, turned out to be much too easily accessible and replicable for serious prolonged discussion or immersion.
But there are two reasons why I’ve decided against that. First, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s patently dumb to discuss the rise and fall of genres (even though I’ve certainly been guilty of it) – it’s gotten to the point where it’s boring. Any writer worth his or her salt can locate points A and B on a timeline and dissect the intervening period. It becomes a waste of time after a while, especially after others have done it. Go ahead, find a discussion of it – it won’t be hard. That ink spilled defending a long-useless point becomes part of the cliché. And when it comes down to it, a musical genre, such as chillwave (and God rest the soul of its popularity), is going to have its supporters long after its relevance has dissipated from the cultural radar. Let’s leave it at this: those who are invested in a particular sound and/or those who just really like it are perfectly entitled to hang their hats on what they find palatable. It could be anything – chillwave, garage, punk, ambient, noise, grindcore, witch house, indie. In the end, haters simply gon’ hate – there’s nothing you can do about it.
Second: Sleep ∞ Over churned through the hype machine, and there was some undeniable anticipation for Forever, enough at least within the circles to which I’m attuned that I almost figured it wasn’t going to be that good – hype has a way of also contributing backlash to the equation. But the kicker, of course, and the actual reason for abandoning my initial brainstorm: I listened to it, and liked it. Go figure. Nothing like realizing you enjoy something that you’re about to publicly rip to shreds to take the wind out of your sails … or gas bladder, as it were. (You know, like a bagpipe. I know it sounds gross.)
With only a tape on the gloriously eclectic Night-People and a couple of 7 inches to their name Sleep ∞ Over didn’t exactly have a wealth of material to promote themselves, yet they crested with chillwave to land on the also–gloriously eclectic Hippos in Tanks for their debut. However, the trio was whittled down to a solo act, as Christa Palazzolo and Sarah Brown left to form their own band, the similar Boy Friend, leaving only Stefanie Franciotti behind to mastermind the project. Yes, it worked out. I said I liked the results, after all.
And it’s actually kind of weird that I do like it, now that I’m thinking about it – although thinking about it isn’t changing my opinion, it’s just clarifying some idiosyncrasies in my own taste. Forever’s pretty light, pretty airy, on the whole, not a whole lot of substance to it. That’s OK, too, I’m somewhat of an ambient aficionado, so I can’t fault minimalism. It’s not a long record, around thirty minutes, and there isn’t a lot of welcome-overstaying or feet-dragging. The production isn’t cluttered. The songs have titles that should be exhaled or whispered rather than spoken: “Romantic Streams,” “Porcelain Hands,” “Heavens Turn By Themselves,” “Flying Saucers Are Real,” etc.
I guess if it comes down to it, it seems like half the tunes are introductions (opener “Behind Closed Doors”), interludes (“Crying Game”), or sound experiments (“Untitled”), and with only ten tracks on the album, that can make the whole thing seem a bit slight. But these are not necessarily bad things – they surround some good songs, some really good songs if we’re going to talk about the dream pop of “Romantic Streams” or the borderline trip-hop-ishness of “Stickers,” songs that stand up to repeat listens, or situate themselves in exactly the right spot on the album. Beyond these two, the composition and recording remains squarely in the gauzy, hazy realm of longing synthesizers and half-breathed vocals, the calling cards of Angelo Badalamenti’s collaborations with Julee Cruise for Twin Peaks. Franciotti taps this vein expertly, I must say “The Heavens Turn By Themselves,” “Flying Saucers Are Real,” and album closer “Don’t Poison Everything” drift, float, envelope, and engage in other soft and hazy descriptive verbs before dissipating in the sun’s morning rays. You can almost see it coming.
So while I’m neither defending nor taking down chillwave, the genre to whose bosom Sleep ∞ Over stylistically clings, I will say that in all genres you’ll find redeeming qualities if you give them a good enough shot. I almost didn’t give one here, and I would have missed out on a good record. It’s not groundbreaking, surely, but it’s enjoyable throughout and something that’s worth your time should you have the inclination to do a little digging around it and its contemporaries. The research was even pleasurable and ultimately satisfying.
RIYL: Cocteau Twins, Julee Cruise, Washed Out, Teen Daze, other bands that have “teen,” “dream,” or “daze” in their names