Review Summary: Like everything and nothing you've heard before
In today’s musical lingo, the word “aesthetic” gets tossed around a lot. Album covers, music videos, and websites all amalgamate to form a unique aesthetic and image for each artist. However, the most important aspect of an aesthetic is memory
. Our memories remind us what we enjoyed and why we enjoyed it in a constant stream of nostalgia that continuously shapes our identities and future expectations. Because of this, aesthetics are much larger than genres. Books, movies, and music could all belong to the same aesthetic as long as they share the same standards of beauty and rely on the same core memories of their audience.
Anonymous French producer In Love With a Ghost has gained fame through their dedication to one such aesthetic. After releasing just a few tracks, ILWAG had already amassed over 100,000 YouTube subscribers and a devout Bandcamp following. This rapid rise to fame was almost certainly driven by the producer’s highly-crafted aesthetic: a combination of lo-fi electronic and downtempo music with manga-flavored thumbnails straight out of an indie comic. Essentially, it was a Tumblr art blog in musical form. Instead of creating their own image, ILWAG simply stepped into the shoes of a pre-existing style and proceeded to ride the inevitable wave of nerd enthusiasm that resulted.
This new album, Healing
, comes at the peak of that wave. The album’s narrative revolves around a genderfluid protagonist, a woodland witch named Nemu, and two other witches by the names of Qwerty and Azerty. If that sounds like a lot to keep track of, don’t worry- Healing
is only a concept album in the loosest sense, and the world-building is more of an excuse for wacky song titles than a signal of any narrative heft.
At just 17 minutes long, the album is mainly comprised of short variations on a single theme. Lead single “I Was Feeling Down…” first introduces the melody that is later echoed in tracks like “Chilling At Nemu’s Place” and “I Hope You Don’t Mind If I Come Here to Cry.” By featuring a prominent motif across several songs, Healing
displays a surprising amount of cohesion that would otherwise be reserved for classical pieces.
Still, despite its brief length and recycled melodies, the album wastes no time exploring several sonic territories. “Introduction” and the aforementioned “Chilling…” both incorporate chiptune and 8-bit sounds while still maintaining ILWAG’s signature melancholy. Other tracks like “Welcome At Qwerty and Azerty’s Place” and “Qwerty Enchanted the House…” are filled with playful, bouncing bass that serves as a clear homage to early Nintendo soundtracks. None of it sounds particularly original or daring, but that’s beside the point. Healing
is a total nostalgia trip from start to finish, transporting listeners through the musical worlds of their childhoods in the process. In this way, ILWAG is less of a pioneer and more of a curator. Everything on Healing
has been done before, but the fusion of these elements into a single package is what cements ILWAG’s status as a connoisseur of internet style.
With a taste for inter-medium synergy and a youthful eye for current fads, ILWAG shamelessly appropriates all of Tumblr’s trending topics and molds them together into a colorful collage. Album art in the style of Adventure Time
and Steven Universe
? Check. Video game callbacks from the 90’s? Check. A whole song dedicated to gender nonconformity? Check. While it definitely seems like ILWAG makes music purely based on “what the kids are into,” there’s no denying that these divergent trends end up working together quite well. Even though this new Frankengenre will inevitably be given the title of “Tumblrwave” or something equally ridiculous, it’s clear that deep down, ILWAG is essentially making stylized nostalgia. Stripping their music of aesthetics would be impossible, since the whole existence and appreciation of these sounds hinges on our collective memories of Nintendo 64s and Saturday morning cartoons.
Over the last decade, our musical past has been filtered back to us through memes like vaporwave and seapunk, that- while entertaining- lacked any meaningful substance. ILWAG’s brazen use of aesthetics would normally place them in the same group, but Healing
should prove powerful enough to squash such a sentiment.
In the final minute of the title track, synthetic bells and whistles swirl into an emotional crescendo that reaches the peak of poignancy. Perhaps we’ve heard these sounds before, but we held onto them for a reason. The aesthetic of ILWAG is almost entirely made of memories, but we held onto them for a reason. Lesser music would cheaply manipulate our memories, but Healing
weaves them into a tapestry, spiriting us into dreamlands familiar yet vastly unknown. Though these sights and sounds may remind you of previous adventures, this is something distinctly now
There’s a certain art to this sort of memory-painting, though it doesn’t have a name. Maybe it’s just magic.