Whoever posited that “it’s not the destination, but the journey” never heard chillwave. That most mellow of modern genres eschews most hallmarks of traditional songcraft in favor of gooey, often aimless texture wrought by synthesizers, drum machines, and shy vocalists. It’s psychedelic elevator music, and nobody takes the elevator to revel in the ride. But as that sound’s original architects (Washed Out, Neon Indian, Toro Y Moi) move on to Balearic beats or full bands, a new breed of Nü Age drifter arrives. Brooklyn’s Young Magic, a.k.a. Aussie-born Isaac Emmanuel and his compatriots, joins artists like Small Black and Raleigh Moncrief in recognizing the crossover potential between chillwave and hip-hop production.
Young Magic’s full-length debut, Melt, touts thick bass synths, head-knock percussion, handclaps galore, and dusty samples (children frolicking, mbiras tinkling, static crackling) apparently inspired directly by Flying Lotus. And Emmanuel does his peers one better: On slinky bangers like “You With Air” and “Night In The Ocean” he even raps, adopting a breathy swagger to drop characteristically dreamy couplets like, “You’re a phenomena / stars of Andromeda.” There’s even an R&B lilt to the latter’s chorus, and a bassline almost certainly cribbed from some Shai song.
But as fresh as those songs feel, and as fun as burbling beat meditations like “Watch For Our Lights” are, Melt doesn’t avoid every pitfall of its freaky phylum. Emmanuel’s words are rarely discernible, and tracks like “Sparkly” wow with moody vibe and celestial breadth, but end in a similar haze instead of finding purchase at some new summit. There’s also a glut of ideas; Emmanuel recorded these songs using friends’ instruments while on a spirit quest spanning at least 10 countries, which is reflected in the dense jumble of colors and textures. It’s the view of the nomad in action, rather than a carefully curated selection of highlights upon his return. While Melt is a fine stop-off, LP number two is the day-tripper’s best hope for an actual destination.