Chillwave dreamscape doesn’t always maintain its luster
A savant of dreamy, woozy, gauzy chillwave, Brothertiger–real name John Jagos–is probably best known for his neo-psychedelic renditions of The Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place” and Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” But Jagos, whose music contains shades of contemporary artists like Washed Out and Toro y Moi, is steadily adding to his repertoire of original work. On his second release of 2020, Paradise Lost, Brothertiger’s vision couldn’t be clearer, but his motif-riddled lyrics and immersively atmospheric production don’t always save him from redundancy.
While Brothertiger fits neatly into the cluster of contemporary artists leading the chillwave movement, there’s an undeniably ’80s aura to Paradise Lost. The cinematic electronica of Brian Eno seems to be a heavy influence on Jagos, who incorporates sections of ambience and walls of sound akin to the fabled experimentalist. The retro synthpop sounds of M83 are also palpable, and Jagos’ vocals even resemble M83 frontman Anthony Gonzalez’s half-singing, half-wailing style.
The first batch of tracks on the record are gloriously washed out, with each bringing something different to the table. Opener “Found” is distinctly melancholy, with a smooth, pulsing beat made up of soft synthesizers. Jagos uses imagery of a mountainous landscape, singing “As I gaze out from the canyon/ Shadow on the plain/ I found life,” seeming to convey the feeling of discovering hope after hitting rock bottom.
The track “Mainsail” is a bit sweeter, with foggy, glowing synths that blend together like paint on a palette. Though the track is a bit drawn out, Jagos’ use of sailing imagery poignantly describes his desire to run away and begin a life of excitement. “Shelter Cove” is more powerful than the other two songs, with booming toms, wavering synths and Jagos’ falsetto vocals harkening back to the days of bombastic ’80s pop. Jagos uses nature imagery again here, painting pictures of landscapes and seafronts as he struggles with doubts about starting anew.
Brothertiger reasserts that he’s ready for the change on “Livin’,” a track whose woozy, layered synthesizers sound like a chillwave take on M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. Jagos’ vocals even sound just like M83’s Gonzalez or The 1975’s Matthew Healy. While Brothertiger seems prepared to enter greener pastures, he questions the faith and commitment of his lover on “Cannonball.” Choppy percussion and wispy synthesizers characterize the track, and Jagos continues to use natural imagery like a rising river and a misty canyon to elucidate his meaning.
Halfway through the album, Brothertiger seems to run out of steam a bit. “My Canopy” brings back Jagos’ preferred glowing synths and natural imagery along with ’80s influences, but the track feels a bit slow, as if it is stuck in molasses. The track “Swing” is a bit redundant. Its distinct ’80s vibe, while pretty and atmospheric, falls a bit flat because of how similar it sounds to some of Brothertiger’s prior offerings. And the song “Checking Out,” despite its washed out aesthetic and clever use of city imagery to explain Jagos’ feeling of unbelonging, ultimately drags on without much build or swell.
“Pyre” is a welcome change. The disco-influenced tune combines a big bass sound, glowing synthesizers and sweet chords to create a psychedelic groove that gets progressively dancier as it chugs along. Jagos again uses imagery, this time of a burning pyre, dying trees and heavy Spring rain, to emote the feeling of being spread too thin.
Eponymous album closer “Paradise Lost” is somewhat disappointing instrumentally, as dissonant, detuned synths and a droning percussive beat leave the track devoid of pizazz. There’s nothing wrong with a slow song, but Jagos doesn’t keep the instrumental varied enough to maintain interest. The track’s saving grace is the lyrics. Jagos’ imagery on the track is an amalgamation of all the motifs that preceded it, as he uses scenes of trees, clouds and seas to describe how he and his lover, despite their differences, share a connection that runs deeper than any of their disagreements.
Paradise Lost leaves listeners with a compelling and fitting conclusion to a record about human connection and self-actualization. Brothertiger’s use of nature motifs and imagery gives the project a sense of continuity, as does his consistent use of washed out, dreamy synthesizers and an ’80s ambience. But while there’s plenty to like about the album, Jagos seems hesitant to take risks, resulting in a record that often pigeonholes itself into redundancy and staleness.