(Bakery Outlet; 2011)

By Kaylen Hann | 7 September 2011

Homey recently asked what defines chillwave as a genre—without asking what purpose chillwave serves. So, I’ll tell you what purpose: a fucking cheap one. Do you know how cheap it is to enjoy chillwave? It’s crashing your neighbor’s BBQ for dinner kinda cheap. Bike-riding cheap! Like 2 AM tacos and Old Style, it is explicitly (and deliciously) designed to enhance and resonate with the most impoverished and unemployed slouching-about sessions on docks, on beaches, on old carpets with your roommates, in bedrooms, and in the backs of cars that are going absolutely nowhere.

But with gasoline running roughly a vital organ donation a gallon, who among us can honestly fork up the fliff for the egregious mileage and time involved in properly listening to shit like half-ponderous, half-lazy ‘90s post-punk? Cruising around with a flattened palm belly-surfing the waves of air out an open window for album-lengths of time? No one, that’s who. And with the Witches’ unexpected and unerringly executed post-punk debut LP, Forever—well, not being able to enjoy this in the way chillwave should be enjoyed is suddenly something a little lamentable.

With their album art featuring a house set on a dirt-mound yard chock-full of bones, Witches’ are a band with a post-punk, pop sound resting on grounds haunted to the rafters by influence and blatantly pin-pointable reference. Sebadoh, R.E.M, early Guided by Voices, the Breeders—if it’s ‘90s post-punk, chances are it’s got a secure foothold somewhere in delineating the Athens-based trio’s emotional-lackey, highway-gobbling aesthetic.

If too infused with a Seattle grunge-lean for “dance-deserving,” then at least this would be “nod-deserving.” This particularly toothsome album is flush with former straight-up singer/songwriter Cara Beth Satalino’s grunge-y digs of guitar, her wry-twisted lyrics landing flatter than hot, hour-old PBR on the palette as she simultaneously stretches and shouts, “I’ve got my heart on straight, but my head is in the wrong place,” (“Ray”) and repeats, “I want to be the one who never says ‘why’/ I want to be the one who never says goodbye” (“Never Sez Bye”). She hangs out those words like she’s setting deer-hide to dry; with the tart smack of petulance, it’s the closest I’ve heard a female vocalist come to Pavement, short of that time I heard Julie Doiron cover “Shady Lane.”

From evasively worded, quippy, and resilient opener “Creature of Nature” to its final strains, this ‘90s, car-cruising kind of introspection would strike a loud “w’evs” on the ears if it weren’t for the tense tremble that pinches in on songs like “Disappointment” and “Never Sez Why,” sending the taut vocals a-quiver like a Harlequin romance thigh. To that effect, Satalino’s vocals muster up an impressive strength and projection that are at once bafflingly urgent and nonchalant. With Michael Clancy’s minimal percussive input and the lax bass lines of Jared Gandy, the spotlight never has much cause to shift off of Satalino. Though given the foreground and the amount of attention she’s bogarting, there’s not much she does to extend herself. There’s no dazzling flaunt of acrobatics or limit-testing; she really only gives up her lackadaisical composure a measly moment, roughly approaching “screech” during “Disappointment”‘s final vocal surges. Given the generosity of the pop-hooks, the generally affable pace of the tracks, and the ten-track brevity of the album—while there’s room for riskier vocal gestures, riskier rhythms, or some bigger-balls-ed bass toils—it’s either not ambitious enough or just too well-crafted and listenable to wear on the nerves.

Perhaps it’s because Witches aren’t really straining themselves, Forever‘s pace is one the bandmates certainly could clip along at, well…forever. That’s cool with me. “Whatever.” It’s just a shame that my odds of talking anyone into driving around on open road with the windows rolled down all wasteful-like, the gas meter ticking down unnoticed, are next to nada. Maybe if you’re lucky, you can just find a way to write off the joy-ride on your taxes. And if not: there’s always chillwave.