Chillwave often seems marred by the ease with which it can be proliferated by sloppy amateurs. Bedroom knob-twirlers with sequencers and halfway-decent recording programs don’t need to be intuitive producers or even actual musicians anymore, as they can rely on computers to do most of their heavy lifting. Canadian newcomer Teen Daze makes an effort to dispel that notion on The Inner Mansions, one of two albums he’s released this year that attempts to forge a path away from cut-and-paste music production. While he partially succeeds in crafting a sound that’s much less software-driven, though, he has a much more difficult time avoiding chillwave’s now-predictable obsession with—and overuse of—timeworn musical genres.
The Inner Mansions is more dance-floor than bedroom, a trancelike, softly thumping club fantasy rife with muffled percussion and harp-like synths. Tracks like “Spirit” and “Discipleship” offer dreamy, shoegaze-style reverb set to house rhythms, while opener “New Life” finds Teen Daze’s barely audible moans sharing time with starry sine waves and clips from a self-help audiobook. The album’s ambient-house influence is constant, found both in vocal-heavy offerings like “Divided Loyalties” and more formless tracks like “The Heart of God,” differentiating it somewhat from the work of Teen Daze’s more pop-centric contemporaries, including Washed Out and Toro y Moi.
Yet despite his partial victory in infusing some new ideas and actual songwriting into the genre, Teen Daze can’t resist dabbling in the clichéd grab-bag of chillwave’s favorite sounds. Not content to stick with the album’s underlying, dance-focused sound, he offers up everything from thick, ‘70s-style R&B grooves to gauzy, garage-rock organs and the formless lo-fi fuzz of ‘80s dream-pop. Even a rock deviation like “Union” plays as if Teen Daze is directly channeling the long-established ideas of yesterday’s artsy alternative bands—in this case, Sunny Day Real Estate and the Cure. Watered down and indistinct, The Inner Mansions falls into the same trap as Toro y Moi’s Underneath the Pine and many other chillwave releases: Namely, that it’s essentially a too-familiar collage of Holga-kissed sentimentality, running through its nostalgic musical cues like a mindless carousel slide projector.