20 digressions about Chiffon, or how I learned to stop worrying and unironically bone to slow jamz
By By Brandon Soderberg
Nov 03, 2015 | 11:04 AM
1. "Really a lot of what is considered hugely cool, popular indie rock these days sounds like '90s R&B. Like it doesn't even sound like indie rock." -A.C. Newman of the New Pornographers in 2014, possibly/probably complaining
2. On its new EP "Cocoon," Chiffon, the R&B duo of Amy Reid and Chase O'Hara, sculpt serious, sexy songs that simultaneously sound as if they're from 1989, 1999, and 2099. Rather than contort R&B to fit a more staid art-kid style, Chiffon approaches slow jamming on its own terms. Chiffon means it. It makes you want to try and mean it as well.
3. On the "Cocoon" opening track 'Baited,' Amy Reid coos, "Will you be there when the sun comes up?" with a hint of tragic optimism in her voice, though it is also perhaps a challenge to a hookup, and an affront, and a sincere lonely question we've all wondered, and an implicitly pissed "you won't be here when the sun comes up now will you?" All those #feelingz over something that sounds like a Timbaland beat that just got handed a Klonopin.
4. "Yooo, this is like an Usher video." -[Name Redacted] in her bed that one time in 2004 and then she laughed really hard
5. My review of Chiffon's previous EP "Milk and Marble" from "True Laurels" Volume Two: "Baltimore slow jammers that should have blogs slobbering all over them unfurl four off-to-the-side catchy songs and then, they're out: 'Milk & Marble' imagines Kelly Rowland's 'Motivation' chillaxing in a tub of Auto-Tune; 'Find Me' makes maximalist space soul out of a hermaphroditic vocal, bed squeaks, and 'Think' break shuffles; 'Bubble Gum Crash' retrofits Crystal Waters and 'The Ghost in the Shell' score and better soundtrack a rave at next year's Otakon; and 'Deep Fantasies' is like Beach House if those big-deal hometown heroes knew they got soul and had a nagging Roger & Zapp fetish."
6. On its Soundcloud account (soundcloud.com/chiffonromance), Chiffon tags each of "Cocoon's" tracks "#futurism." Reid and O'Hara know what they are doing. What Chiffon and others like it explore is quite separate from soul—the music millennials' parents screwed to probably (my parents screwed to hair metal but you get my drift). What Chiffon does is more synthetic, and finds ways in which it can make the synthetic sound human (Kraftwerk's 'Computer Love' is at least as important here as, say, Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation 1814"). It's sleeker, colder, and it's got a stiff upper lip—it'll let you in, but it's going to be a little guarded at first.
7. Smoking cigarettes inside the apartment of someone I just met at 3 a.m. sharing a bottle of booze that R&B's bad boys sing about a whole lot and subsequently fucking while Nguzunguzu's "Perfect Lullaby" mix played in the background.
8. Chiffon was awarded the Best Slow Jams award in the 2014 Best of Baltimore. "Amy Reid and Chase O'Hara mix Baltimore club, electronica, trip-hop, video game music, quiet storm, space disco, bed-squeak fuck-rap, and more with the simple appeal of low-BPM bump-and-grind '90s shit that's in right now (for good reason—Aaliyah and Ginuwine were great!). And so, Chiffon is perfect for Baltimore bedrooms: It delivers the make-out music goods but affords it an experimental arty edge. And seeing Chiffon lit by the red light of The Crown, performing 'Find Me' off its 'Marble' EP earlier this year in particular, made us want to take a cab back home with our partner mid-song, or at least, contemplate getting kicked out of the show for too much PDA on the couches in the back corner." Best-of blurbs are usually anonymous but I wrote this one. It me—I was the creep making out on the grimy red couch at The Crown.
9. R&B is not made by people who are "naturally" cool or suave and all the rest. Rather, it's made by people who unabashedly decide to go for it and turn themselves, if only for the duration of their songs, into a transcendently attractive hero of intercourse and smooth talk and ideal partner attentiveness and all the rest. That's the difference between us and them. Consider Ginuwine, of 'Pony' fame. His real name is the viscerally not-sexy Elgin Lumpkin. So Elgin Lumpkin becomes Ginuwine and Amy Reid and Chase O'Hara become Chiffon and when you listen to their music you can escape your own awkward skin for a little bit too.
10. "Nostalgia for when you were ten years old . . . nostalgia for when you were 20 years old . . . nostalgia for when you were still nostalgic." -Charles Aaron in the SPIN article '#sonictruth' from 2011
11. My review of 'Venerable,' the second song on "Cocoon," in City Paper, February 2015: "A maximalist, stitched-together retro-futuristic R&B collage that recalls all of those bizarre, trippy instrumentals that popped up on R&B-pop in the late '80s. Stuff like: Bobby Brown's 'Cruel (Prelude)' and 'Cruel (Reprise)'; Five Star Orchestra's 'First Avenue'; Guy's 'Teddy's Jam'; and Kashif's 'The Mood.' This song is formless in a good way, as if 'Venerable' has too many emotions inside of it to settle on one, so it's gotta skip from one sound to the next to not freak out. Fitting for a song whose sensory and unsure lyrics capture the temporal qualities of love and lust."
12. OK, so let's talk Bobby Brown's 'Cruel (Prelude)' and 'Cruel (Reprise).' Those two brief sketchlike instrumentals are foundational to the current antiseptic sex music aesthetic of groups like Chiffon and artists on bigger-deal dance labels such as Fade To Mind and some of the things that a local-ish label Classical Trax has been cranking out. Chiffon highlights the avant-garde qualities of baby-makin' music, the moment when, as I've quipped elsewhere before, Teddy Riley and Terry Riley met.
13. Chiffon played at an ex-girlfriend's wedding over the summer. She saw the duo open for Future Islands in Philly last year, texted me about them, and I was like, "yes, they're fucking great, buy their tape," so she bought their tape, and then oh wowee, a few months later was like, "Can you try and reach out to them for me, I want them to play my wedding." So I did and Chiffon played her wedding, how cool is that? I was not invited to the wedding. Life is weird and often bullshit but that is OK. Me and "the ex" had a tight text convo the other day about, um, "love" of all things. "You have to tell the other person what you think and give them a chance to understand," she texted. "Yeah I don't do that at all, lol," I texted back. "I really have no ability to communicate how I feel about anything in a clear or useful way."
14. 'Release' off "Cocoon" is an accumulation of soft-focus bleeps and edgeless industrial percussion. It's mostly buildup with no, well, release, and funnels all that restlessness into the final song, 'Maintenance,' which threatens a breakup.
15. "White musicians who can play are far too frequently elevated beyond their abilities in order to allow white writers to make themselves feel more comfortable about being in the role of evaluating an art from which they feel substantially alienated." -Stanley Crouch on white jazz critics and white jazz musicians in 2003, though it might as well be about R&B
16. This type of music itself is inexplicably coercive—its swaying patient rhythms, the warmth of its electronics, and the tension and release of it, you know. So, what you're fighting against if you're decent is using "sexy music" as coercion—an icky indicator that, ahem, "it is now the time at which we will passionately make love." Planning is boring anyway. This programmatic thinking is what Kanye West is partially parodying (and partially celebrating) on 'Slow Jamz' ("I'm a play this Vandross, you gonna take your pants off/ I'm a play this Gladys Knight, me and you gonna get right"). So like, play the Dream's "Love/Hate" while you're sweeping dog hair up and you're partner's just dicking off on Twitter or something. That's "sexy" too.
17. "'Retronuevo' can be defined as an embrace of the past to create passionate, fresh music or to develop an atmosphere that recalls, in a contemporary context, useful traditions." -Nelson George, 1986
18. When I bought "Aaliyah" on vinyl back in 2001, my copy housed two copies of the first LP (it's a double LP) and because vinyl is nonrefundable as it usually is, I was stuck with it. As a result, over the past 14 years, I've become more intimately familiar with one half of that album (from 'We Need A Resolution' to 'I Care 4 U') than the other half. I think this is true of Chiffon as well—it understands half of what made "Aaliyah" great.
19. 'Maintenance,' the final track on "Cocoon," is about trying to fix a relationship. Reid mentions things she might "lose" as the instrumental sounds as if it's reconstructing itself, honeyed synthesizers accruing in the background. Another vocal, heavily manipulated—like Sade Adu if she were a cyborg—responds but you can't quite hear what it's saying. Romance at a possible impasse. It's a devastating way to close the EP.
20. Netflix and chill. "Queen of the Damned" and chill. T-Pain's VH1 "Behind The Music" and chill. "Love and Basketball" and chill. "Malibu's Most Wanted" and chill. "Inuyasha" and chill. The music video for New Edition's 'Can You Stand the Rain' and chill. That horrifying clip of Left Eye from TLC fatally crashing her jeep and chill. Moebius and Jodorowsky's never-completed "The Incal" cartoon and chill. That scene in "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo" where he walks as 10cc's 'I'm Not In Love' plays and chill. The video for Chiffon's 'Baited' and chill.