Your Guide to Navigating Blogger-Created Genre Names

"What the fuck is chillwave?????" Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast tweeted back in April, when MTVU blogger Lindsay Hood described her band as "chillwave," after dismissing genres like "lo-fi," "glo-fi" and "Gorillavsbearcore" in her blurb advancing the video for the band's single "When I'm With You." 

To be fair to Cosentino and Hood, these sub-genres are getting a little tough to keep track of. Last week Pitchfork wrote up Chicago band Salem, noting that they had spawned a new genre, absurdly coined "witch-house," a feat they had bafflingly accomplished without even releasing a full length album. While it may be an extended joke on the band's witch-trial evoking moniker, it nonetheless demonstrates the blogosphere's willingness to endlessly clutter up up our iTunes "genre" category.

Best Coast hardly needs such specification. They've got a formula: take some classic girl group sounds, add a liberal wash of surf reverb and press the "GBV" button for distortion.  It's simple, which is to say totally awesome, but in the ever-morphing blogosphere, such catch phrase genre names seem essential when it comes to defining the fast mutating tastes of readers. Read on as we try and make sense of a world where the term "blisscore" is supposed to mean something. 

1. Lo-Fi

Perhaps the most amorphous of current genres du jour, lo-fi is also one of the oldest. The term originally labeled punk and indie rock artists whose recordings betrayed the rough marks of home production: hiss, unintended distortion, fuzz, and all the other things you wouldn't hear on a Top 40 station. These days you'll mostly hear the term applied to stuff like Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, despite the fact that their new album sounds like vintage Yes to me, and earlier work by Animal Collective, though these days they're just the electro-Grateful Dead. The term is also widely used to tag stuff more indebted to the genre's punkier early wave, like the late-great Jay Reatard, Detroit rockers Tyvek, and all around-stunner, Mr. Ty Segall.

Ty Segall - Girlfriend by IndieHearts

2. Chillwave

Best I can tell, the folks at Hipster Runoff have the most comprehensive take on "chillwave." The term covers the watery, dancey, '80s analog synth sounds of artists like Neon Indian (you know, that dude who made Miniature Tigers sound watery and dancey), Washed Out, and Panda Bear (who, yeah, I know he's from Animal Collective, but bear with me). Generally, speaking the genre is typified by a lot of Mac laptops and American Apparel deep v-necks, with performers acting somewhere between DJ and singer/songwriter. Word on the 'Runoff is that, "Leave Everywhere," the new single from Toro Y Moi, a former poster boy for the "chillwave" sound, abandons the genre aesthetic, which must be why I like it so much. Here's some Washed Out, who also sound pretty okay:

Washed Out - "Feel It All Around" by indiemusicfilter

3. Blisscore

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I'm not sure "blisscore" is a real thing, or just some kind of elaborate hoax created by the guys at hipinion.com.  Either way, it's got a Facebook page, which must count for something.  Delorean seems to be the front-runner of the genre, followed by Wild Nothing and Tanlines.  I can't really tell the stuff apart from "chillwave," but lucky for me, the blogger at The Up-Turn has it all mapped out:

Of course the differences are actually prominent. While chillwave is slow and dreamy, blisscore is joyous and lush. What blisscore doesn't have however is that immediate feeling of "oh this is a blisscore song" that chillwave became so popular for.

So there you have it.  Here's a Delorean song:

Wild Nothing - Chinatown by LukeSlater

4. Shitgaze

A clever(?) twist on the "shoegaze" label (popularized by post-punk/guitar-pop bands who stared at their sneakers whilst making noise with pedals), shitgaze was spawned by the guys in Psychedelic Horseshit, according at least to the bloggers at Vice Magazine. Other noted practitioners include Times New Viking and Eat Skull.  The jams are characterized by a lot of violent treble and abrasive noise, and, in the case of Psychedelic Horseshit, an intense dislike of Wavves, TV on the Radio and No Age. Side note, I totally misused this term in my "Best of 2009" list, but what can I say, I just like typing "shitgaze." Here's Psychedelic Horseshit, sounding not entirely unlike TV on the Radio:

Psychedelic Horseshit - Unseen Voids by Bmore Musically Informed

5. Indie Rock

Oh, yes, "indie rock" -- the most confusing of all genres. It's not exactly blogger-created, but it's perhaps the reason why we have so many splintered micro- and subgenres. The term originally attempted to categorize a whole slew of unlike artists, united only by the fact that that they shared a common distinction of releasing their music independently (hence the link between R.E.M. and Black Flag). But not even that works anymore. Some of the most popular "indie rock" bands in the world -- like Modest Mouse, Death Cab for Cutie and The Decemberists -- are signed to major labels, while many of the labels that defined the term, like Matador and Merge, are doing the kind of business most major labels would kill for.  Mixed-up stuff. 

Dashboard - Modest Mouse by flickitstickit  

Despite any sarcasm, it makes sense for us to desire compartments for our music. In a landscape where Michael McDonald is singing Grizzly Bear, or Joanna Newsom is getting sampled on albums by the Roots, it's tempting to recoil from the breakdown of genre lines, into a world where mash-ups remain a novelty and we can still define "what-we-like."  On the other hand, there's a Utopian idea in my head, one where our record stores are filed strictly alphabetically, where the musical overlap causes genuine understanding between humans.  Far fetched, I know, but at least no one would ever have to type stupid shit like "chillwave" into their search engine ever again. 

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