Wednesday, July 23, 2014

GGOOLLDD Offer a Better Kind of Synth-Pop on Their Debut EP, "$TANDARD$"

By Evan Rytlewski
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Let’s talk about chillwave for a quick second. Remember chillwave? It was a style of lo-fi synth-pop so pervasive four years ago that Pitchfork actually started a spinoff site dedicated to it and its hyper-underground offshoots (RIP Altered Zones). By 2011 listeners had already moved on, and these days chillwave is remembered mostly as a punchline, brushed off with the same “LOL what where we all thinking?” head shake that we dismiss all forgotten fads with. Here’s the thing about chillwave, though: A lot of those artists were actually onto something. They were revisiting worthwhile ’80s sounds, while warming indie-rock listeners to the conventions of dance and electronic music. A lot of them could even turn a pretty damn good hook. But instead of running with those strengths and playing up their bright sounds, chillwave's auteurs obfuscated them with crap production, untrained vocals and meandering song structures—pretty much every stock convention indie artists hide behind to trumpet their outdated notions of authenticity. How many great songs were swallowed by chillwave’s shticky aesthetic? We’ll never know, because nobody has any interest in revisiting that music.

Chillwave, then, was indie-rock’s last great dead end, but at least current artists seem to have learned some lessons from its failures. These days the same basic synth-pop chillwave was predicated on carries on in a more polished, realized form in bands like Chvrches, Purity Ring and Phantogram. These bands’ record collections probably look pretty similar to those of your typical chillwave producer, but their own music is everything chillwave wasn’t: open, alert, inviting. They’re all putting out some seriously great music right now, and Milwaukee upstarts GGOOLLDD deserve to be mentioned right alongside them, because they’re every bit as good.

GGOOLLDD’s debut EP $TANDARD$ offers some of the most deliriously catchy pop you’ll hear all year, as well as that elusive extra that most of their synth-boom peers lack: actual star power, in the form of front woman Margaret Butler. Butler’s voice is prettier and more pliable than Karen O’s, more synced to the rhythms of dance music, but like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer, she’s able to channel huge emotional currents with just the slightest vocal inflection. On opener “Younger Days” she’s basking in delirious, real-time glee; by closer “Killing Time” that euphoria has already soured into “strung out, fucked up” regret, a sentiment she sells equally convincingly. She’s the band’s wounded heart, and also their selling point, but it’s worth noting how perfectly every element of their sound works—the fluttery interplay of the drums and bass, the contrasting lightness and heaviness of the synths, the way the hooks and melodies seem to flower from each other at will. It’s all wonderful.

You can stream $TANDARD$ below, via Bandcamp. GGOOLLDD play a free album release show Thursday, July 24 with Color Number and Bright Kind at Yield. The show begins at 9 p.m.


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