For a chillwave act to truly stand out in 2012, they have to have something that shows aspiration to bigger things than their bedroom. Brothertiger, the project of Toledo’s John Jagos, may have once been just another chillwave artist, but to reach his first full-length record is an achievement that places him alongside successful artists such as Toro Y Moi and Washed Out. On his first EP, Vision Tunnels, released in 2010, Jagos showcased a lo fi brand of the chillwave sound, with a taste for retro ’70s and ’80s sounds. Following Vision Tunnels came a single, “Like Water”, and another EP, entitled Point of View, both of which showcased a much clearer interest in song structure and punchier production, yet there was still nothing that truly stood out.
It’s encouraging that Brothertiger’s first truly excellent track was Golden Years’ lead single “Lovers”, released earlier in the year. A delightfully simple synth pop number, with Jagos’ first truly audible lyric, and thus one of the most glorious, albeit it one of the only choruses to come from the chill wave genre. The lyric “There’s nothing wrong with me / Can’t you see? It’s gonna be alright” is somewhat cringe worthy on paper, but sung angelically over these sunny, carefree synths, it becomes the perfect chillwave anthem, symbolizing the blissful escapism of the genre, even if it ventures into slightly more accessible territory to do so.
It is tempting to wonder what Golden Years would sound like if the entire record was as uplifting and dance floor-friendly as “Lovers”, but John Jagos has other plans. Instead, his debut full length as Brothertiger showcases an eclectic mix of everything Brothertiger has experimented with thus far, with a few new influences tossed in for good measure.
That’s not to say “Lovers” is single handedly flying the flag for funk. Airy, synth-swept opener “The Young Ones” harks back to Jagos’ earlier days, with its distant waves of falsetto and cascading synths, but the segue into the bubbling synths of the irresistibly sunny “I’ve Been Waiting”, taken from the same cloth as “Lovers”, is a stark and pleasantly surprising contrast. Later on, the driving bass-led strut of “Out of Line” even surpasses “Lovers” in terms of disco fever, with its slick ’70s disco beats and jaunty synths taken straight from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.
Elsewhere however, Jagos delves into his back catalogue to borrow a few atmospheric fuzzy ’80s pads and gives them a new twist. Tracks like “Reach It All” and “Wind at My Back” hark back to the Vision Tunnels days, and sacrifice danceability for a sweeping beauty. However, he can‘t resist chucking a few faint hooks over the dark and brooding “Wind at My Back”, and “Reach It All” has a wistful poignancy that sounds like a Bronski Beat daydream.
This is not your everyday chillwave. Jagos clearly hasn’t got time to wail a few drawn out indistinct words over a fuzzy mesh of sun kissed synths for a whole album; he wants his listeners to sit up and listen. Not to say there are some lovely traditional chillwave tracks here, specifically “Too Convinced to Care”, a gorgeous Slowdive-esque number with synths, peaceful interlude “Suddenly, Voices”, and closer “Turquoise (Skyline)”, as authentic sounding an ’80s pop ballad as you could hope for. But each of them brings a new colour to the record, and as a result, these are just as essential to the record as everything else.
At the core of the record, the title track takes Jagos to a new level of epic, with a soaring melody over a sturdy drum machine and driving bass line, with a falsetto hook that M83 wouldn’t turn their nose up at. With a bigger production, this wouldn’t be out of place on Hurry, Up We’re Dreaming. Luckily, it’s not out of place on this record either, and that’s exactly the record’s selling point. John Jagos clearly wants to recognize all his influences, but the unique way he combines them means that he creates his own sound: ’80s funk, chill wave, synth pop, and the loveliest of electronic genres all placed side by side in one gorgeous journey of sugar-coated sound. And though it might seem a bit ambitious in its variety of genres, it would impossible to call a record this lovely ‘inconsistent’. It doesn’t try to sound cohesive, but what keeps it so is the consistently high quality of all the genres touched upon on Golden Years.
Whilst other dance floor-friendly chill wave artists like Washed Out and Toro Y Moi maintain a very reliable mix of exactly the same measure of chilled and upbeat on most of their tracks, John Jago’s Brothertiger project sounds like it’s still searching for a specific sound. However, when the results are this fresh, may he keep on searching.