Glowbug – VHS

Whether it’s his work with Idiot Pilot, his instrumental project Tarantula Tapes, or his ever-growing catalog of albums under the Glowbug moniker, it’s safe to say that each of Daniel Anderson’s releases has a distinct personality. And, as a visual artist himself, he is most surely aware of this, with album covers ranging from vector graphics to photographic pastiche. Now, only a short bit after his latest Tarantula Tapes release, Anderson has emerged yet again, continuing to follow his flash-bang release cycle with absolutely no fluff or self-aggrandizing rhetoric, to release yet another album. Its title is VHS. Its artwork is equal parts intriguing and uncomfortable. Its content perhaps follows this pattern as well.

You may not be shocked to find that VHS harkens back to the 70s and 80s. There’s definitely been a resurgence for this flavor for quite some time now, and Stranger Things, The 1975, and a host of other vampiric sources of nostalgia have cemented the reality that interest may not be waning any time soon. And while we’ve started to see a bit of a 90s revival here and there, it’s never quite so sentimental. There’s something about the pre-internet era, where every human interaction was consequential, that seems to speak to something about our current state of endemic loneliness. And frankly, neon lights and low-pass filters just seem cool at a distance.

Now, this in itself is not new for Anderson by any stretch. Early Glowbug records, and even last year’s Your Funeral, show quite a fair bit of chillwave influence. But when VHS is adorned by such jarring artwork, you might expect that at least something is a little different this time around.

Anderson himself has expressed he believes this record might be divisive to some degree, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like a full departure from previous releases. Perhaps it’s proximity bias of sorts where it’s hard to see our own work objectively. Or, perhaps just as reasonably, it could be the sort of sonic soft-serve nature of Glowbug, where each album seems to often have two or so somewhat-disparate primary textures. After all, Weezer and Talking Heads both seemed to lend influence to 2021’s The Bumblebee King. And even the two singles, “Technicolor Red” and “Hotline”, seem to show very different sides of Glowbug. So, VHS is an analog-tinged adventure regarding late-century technology, human-machine duality, and other general musings about life, mortality, fate, and love. Again, none of this is particularly new for Anderson. It is perhaps more off-white or cream than gray or black.

Anderson has a history of powerful opening tracks. “Friendly Apocalypse” in particular stands out for quick reference, and “Skeleton Crew” was certainly a fun sort of creative risk. Here, we are gifted “Think Fast”, a song which, in the most complimenting way possible, feels a bit like an exercise montage backing track. The bass pattern definitely stands out in terms of conveying the song’s particular character. Add in the “computer solo” on “Technicolor Red” and it’s evident that synthesis is a large part of this album’s framework.

“Technicolor Red” is definitely an interesting song. It’s a highlight in terms of overall structure, and the bit of screaming during “Show me again and again on the tape” really adds in just enough spice to keep the energy high. Lyrically, like much of Anderson’s work, it is a bit cryptic, giving us a time-cycle of sorts. I’m personally reminded of The Entertainment in Infinite Jest – a film so captivating that people who watch it are completely consumed and end up dying while watching it on repeat. This admittedly doesn’t line up with some of the most overt lines about SECAM and PAL, and artistic criticism and analysis can easily become more about interjecting our own ideas into someone’s work – more on this shortly. The track was released as the album’s lead single and it definitely holds up still.

The main strong pocket comes with “Chemicals”, “Perfect Day”, and “Empty Skull”. The first of the three has a certain industrial quality to it, and it definitely feels like a “drag racing through Miami” type of song with its more intense synth waveforms. “Perfect Day” is a falsetto-laden song about luck, superstition, and doubt (and, well, being burned alive). And “Empty Skull” makes you wonder if you’re truly understanding any of the other songs appropriately by proclaiming:

Hey everyone, I wrote a song,

Another indie post-genre pop screw up,

Learn all the words and sing along,

I spent a solid half hour drawing at random out of a hat

And later on:

Still organizing everything

I’ve got a splatter of paint, looks like a wing,

Or anything you’d like to see,

Angels, insects, or bluebirds, whatever, just tell me what it should be

This is something I have a lot of thoughts and feelings on (enough that I wrote a novel, actually): the intersection of intent and content. It’s not clear of this character is Anderson or even based off him, whether this is supposed to taken seriously or facetiously. And in some ways, that’s the point. In a world of increased automation, the quality of art has suffered as the human component has been reduced to simply another layer of the packaging. Meaning, purpose, and related matters can only be understood ultimately through contextualization and actually knowing the artist. Anything else is undeniably prone to us reading ourselves into the work. And at risk of being proven hypocritical to my own commentary, I’ll stop here.

“Hotline” caps off the album, and it was also released as a single. It’s a slow burn in some ways, but it has definitely grown on me and the ending build is a nice touch.

All in all, VHS isn’t quite as much of a departure from Anderson’s earlier works as advertised. Sure, it has a bit more of an unabashed love for analog tones and dance-video rhythms. There’s falsetto aplenty. Lyrics are peppered with sentiments adjacent to movies, infomercials, and shows. This is also the first album in years where there are no guest appearances. But there’s still a complex dynamic of high-energy and softer moments (“Yes And” is a good example of the latter). Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of “Big Shot” or “The Cooler” but VHS is still more than balanced as a whole.

So, what is the personality of this album? Maybe it’s more melodic, ruminating on a movie set or play gone wrong in some ways. Maybe it’s sunset racing amid palm trees. Whatever the case, Anderson presents us with the “slight left” turn of his musical GPS that feels at once familiar and fresh.

VHS is available for free download on Bandcamp. Anderson has included the following statement:

VHS is 100% free to download. However, I am suggesting anyone who can afford it uses the money they might’ve spent on this record for a donation to Best Friends Animal Society, a highly rated non-profit dedicated to helping find homes for cats and dogs in need and promoting no kill shelters. The usual price for an album is $10, so you can match that if you’d like, but anything helps. You can donate here:

The health of my cat, Winny, has been declining lately. Over the past decade she has helped with the creation of nearly every Glowbug record, sitting quietly on the desk next to me. Winny was a stray when I got her, but she was lucky enough to have a good life making records, not all cats and dogs are this fortunate. This album is dedicated to her.

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