Review Summary: Like a status update, projecting an air of importance but offering little substance.
If nothing else, The Social Network
acutely displayed the fundamental contradictions of social networking - being in contact with everybody is the same thing as not knowing anybody at all. As we sit behind our computer screens for hours upon hours, eyes darting from tab to tab, fingers operating on autopilot, the realization that we are very much alone slowly sinks in. Chillwave is essentially the musical manifestation of this, the heavily filtered vocals and woozy synthesizers creating a cocoon of sound that is at once comforting and unsure of itself. New Chain
, the full-length debut from Brooklyn's Small Black, exists in this amniotic mode, filled with bubbling keyboards, disembodied voices, and thick drum machine beats. It's a likable, sometimes beautiful aesthetic that often fails to leave much of an impression.
When New Chain
does make an impact, it usually does so on the strengths of its melodies. That weird little synth line that opens 'Camouflage', the beautiful "rise up again" chorus of 'Photojournalist' - these inspired touches are all characterized by a focus on songwriting rather than texture. Too often, though, the music is by-the-numbers and unremarkable, purely existing in the hypnagogic state that Small Black is all too content to remain in. Herein lies the fundamental problem with so much chillwave - it's borderline depressing
at album length. The insistently thick mix and relative lack of negative space on New Chain
become oppressive when listened to in long stretches. So while tracks like 'Crisp 100s' and 'Goons' are superficially pretty when listened to on their own, they seem utterly monotonous when sequenced one after another. In the end, New Chain
feels like just another status update, projecting an air of importance but ultimately offering little in the way of substance. As the band says themselves in 'Search Party', "There's nothing to keep." How true.