Chillwave comes to Oxford on this EP-sized slice of Polaroid pop.
Alex Denney 2011
A leading light of Oxford’s Blessing Force collective (which also numbers Fixers, Trophy Wife and Solid Gold Dragons in its ranks), it’s transatlantic climes you’ll be dreaming of when you listen to Chad Valley, the solo project of Hugo Manuel.
With debut EP Equatorial Ultravox, the Jonquil mainman sounds completely immersed in the US blog culture’s obsession with all things Animal Collective, RnB and Balearic chill. It’s an aesthetic standpoint that works well on the G-funk slow jam Reach Lines, which has the twinkling elegance of a rose-tinted Biggie Smalls reverie, and I Want Your Love, buoyed by an affecting chorus melody even as the synths do that nostalgic button-pushing thing all chillwave spotters will be jadedly familiar with by now.
But elsewhere Manuel sounds a little too earnestly in thrall to his peers to make this stand out. Whatever your take on the chillwave phenomenon – that brand of overexposed, Polaroid pop mining childhood memories kick-started (arguably) by Animal Collective’s influential album Merriweather Post Pavilion – it’s a conversation that’s happened, and Equatorial Ultravox does little to further the debate.
Fast Challenges greets you like a face full of pillow down, but seems content to cruise by on a waft of sub-RnB emoting and an unthinking 4/4 beat. The tropical-scented percussion of Now That I’m Real (How Does It Feel?) fares a little better in the rhythmic stakes, but the melody feels thin and insubstantial as opposed to spectral and evocative. Acker Bilk, meanwhile, does a fair job of recreating the uterine bliss of Person Pitch-era Panda Bear, but it feels like one of those art-class exercises where you’re asked to recreate a Picasso or Van Gogh stoke-for-stroke: pointless.
That sounds like a harsh note for a record of undoubted melodic skill and impeccable (if somehow limiting) good taste, but Manuel needs to dig deeper than yesterday’s Pitchfork headlines if he’s to make a name for himself yet.