Boy in Static
espite the fact that Boy in Static's website proudly lists a whopping six members in the band, the notes list only “Written, produced, performed by Alexander Chen.” Boy in Static started as his bedroom project, and although I'm sure his five compatriots acquit themselves well live it makes perfect sense when listening to Violet that he would choose to continue to go it alone. Like a lot of one-man jobs, the record is both dense and yet (once you pick it apart) surprisingly simple, and Chen layers his drum machines, guitars, sleigh bells, and viola into the kind of dense chunks of melody and texture that are likely to satisfy anyone still waiting vainly for that follow up to Loveless.
Like all pretenders to the throne, of course, Chen veers away from the blueprint in a few important ways. In his case he seems to have taken more notice than most that the title of Loveless isn't accidental, and that even though it's often impossible to make out what Kevin Shields and Belinda Butcher were singing, the suffocating and often despairing emotional tone came through just fine. Chen is painfully and relentlessly emotionally forward, foregrounding his breathy voice to the point where his neuroses and fears turn the record not just emo, but morbid. “Where It Ends” and “December” are the record's two big pop moments, and although they both satisfy from the titles on down they're also both about the fear of things dying, the paralyzing certainty of decay. A feel good time Violet is not.
Chen doesn't even approach the boldness of gazing at his own shoes let alone anyone else's, and you can't really say Violet has a womb-like ambience because even a womb implies the existence of another person. Despite the fact that much of the album is concerned with tales of some sort of Other (and invariably of the crumbling relations with said person), a track like “Immortal” feels like it was recorded by Chen hunched over his microphone as if he was trying to collapse fully into himself.
But that's not just a comment on lyrics (as with most music that partakes of the dream pop diaspora, Chen's lyrics are both impressionistic and often not quite the point); it's a deliberate production aesthetic. Violet's 46 minutes has less stylistic variation than your average Ramones record and just as Chen seems to be trying to pull the music over himself like a blanket it almost aggressively seeks to enfold you in that sound and that emotional space. Which makes Violet's success more dependent on your state of mind even more than usual.
This genre of music is often regarded as insular, but insularity usually starts as a defense mechanism. Chen has turned that solipsism along with his one-man-band status into a virtue; you can forgive his tritely self-involved lyrics precisely because sometimes we all get that up our own backsides, and he at least gives us a lush, gorgeous soundtrack to that particular headspace.