It's tempting to think he's being ironic, but Silver, a 28 year-old Montreal native who describes his music as "painfully sincere," swears that his intentions are completely genuine. "I'm not somebody who appreciates music ironically," he says, "but a lot of the time, I'll bring something to my friend and be like, 'You're really going to like this, it's pretty schmaltzy.' It's not because we think it's funny, it's because it actually tugs on the heartstrings."
Schmaltzy or not, Silver has staked out a conceptually rich and invitingly warm corner of the electronic spectrum that's uniquely his own. The latest CFCF record is On Vacation, a captivating suite of shimmering, funk-tinged exotica that also dabbles in new age, jazz, Japanese pop, Balearic and ambient. Issued as a mini-LP for the impeccably chilled International Feel label, it caps an impressive recent run from Silver, who last summer released a pair of similarly spirited—and much lauded—albums, Radiance & Submission (for Driftless) and The Colours Of Life (for 1080p), within the space of two weeks. These records represent a period of cohesion from a producer whose lengthy catalog has touched on many different styles and sounds. And they're arguably the strongest CFCF material to date.
In a time when many producers are content to strive for functionality, Silver is driven by ideas. "I don't get inspired by heartbreak, or the things that are the defining moments in people's lives," he says. Brutalist architecture and minimal composition were at the heart of 2012's Exercises EP, while 2013's more abstract Music For Objects found Silver musically examining a series of everyday objects—song titles included "Bowl," "Keys," "Lamp" and "Camera." Back in 2010, he filled The River EP for RVNG Intl. with hypnotically languid synths inspired by Werner Herzog's 1982 film Fitzcarraldo. Cinema has long been one of Silver's biggest influences, the work of directors David Lynch, Michael Mann, Yasujirō Ozu and Herzog in particular. "A lot of their movies just had something in them that was intangibly human," he says, "even if it was approaching something grotesque or sad."
Of all his conceptual endeavors, however, Silver's extended foray into an internet-spawned anti-genre called "night bus" was the most lighthearted. Taking its name from a Burial song and first coming together through online message boards, night bus is a sound that Silver is loath to define—in his mind, that would run counter to the entire concept—but he is willing to provide a loose framework of his own musical headspace at the time: "It was just like, 'Well, if I wanted to play this Tangerine Dream song and mix it into Roy Orbison and then out into this mid-'90s Jay-Z song or whatever, maybe that makes sense.' It was a way of understanding, of just trying to break apart the rigidness of approaching music in a genre way."
Despite the goofy name and the music's online origins, Silver was clearly onto something. In 2010 his Do U Like Night Bus? mix became such a sensation that he later followed it up with additional Night Bus mixes in 2011 and 2014. During those years, piecing together his version of night bus was something Silver found both "fun" and "totally subjective," but he eventually grew tired of it. "People started to do exactly what they do with other made-up genres, which is they try to quantify and qualify," he says.
Definitions and classifications are things that Silver has struggled against throughout his career. Despite the diversity of his output and the intriguing ideas behind it, CFCF has often been somewhat ignored by "serious" electronic music circles, and has sometimes been lumped in with the indie scene, which never sat well with him. "While I like some indie rock, it's definitely never been my forte," says Silver. "I didn't have patches on my bag or go to Elephant 6 shows."
Part of this perception stems from the fact that the first two CFCF albums were released on Paper Bag, a Toronto label that's also been home to the likes of Broken Social Scene, Stars, Tokyo Police Club and a number of other indie bands. Furthermore, CFCF was a name that initially made the rounds of the bloghouse circuit: back in 2008, Silver broke onto the scene by winning a Crystal Castles remix contest, and many of his early offerings were reworks of tracks from HEALTH, Sally Shapiro, Memory Cassette, The Presets and other similarly hyped acts from that era.
Yet even within those circles, Silver didn't really fit. While many of his bloghouse contemporaries were openly aping Daft Punk and gravitating toward crunchy electro and over-the-top theatrics, Silver—a self-taught producer who'd been messing around with electronic music since the age of 12—was experimenting with disco, R&B and noodly synths, inadvertently landing on a compelling strain of leftfield electronic pop. "I just didn't understand how to make music like those other artists," he says with a laugh. "I couldn't figure out what they were doing when they were producing these songs. I just had to do my own thing."
That freedom is key to Silver's musical vision, and it's why he finds himself continually drawn toward the electronic realm. "I'm not a rock musician and I'm not a jazz musician," he says. "Electronic music is a nice place to be because there's an expectation that you can make music without having a specific set of values, or having to adhere to any one language. You can really just play around."
His playful spirit certainly helped spawn The Colours Of Life, an album that was actually written back in 2011, during a six-month stint living in Paris with his then-girlfriend. "It was a little challenge for myself," he explains. "I had no gear there and I didn't have much to do with my days, so it was a little challenge to myself to see if I could do this 40-minute piece that was just a continuous flowing piece in a slightly kitschy, slightly silly, but very sincere, new age, Balearic, answering-machine-hold-music style."
Stuffed with twee melodies and drawing inspiration from Phil Collins' "Hand In Hand," synth pioneer Suzanne Ciani and kosmische legend Manuel Göttsching, The Colours Of Life is a celestial and utterly engrossing listen that was originally slated for release on RVNG Intl. as part of the label's collaborative FRKWYS series. Vocal contributions were solicited, recorded and mixed into the album, but when the time came to sign contracts, some of the artists got skittish and pulled out of the project. Silver had no choice but to strip out their voices, and the album went into a sort of limbo. "I sat on it for a while because I wanted to be respectful to RVNG, and it just was a weird thing," says Silver. "After some time had passed, I sent it over to 1080p."
While The Colours Of Life was still being sorted out, Silver had also begun working on what would become Radiance & Submission, which he viewed as his proper third album. Although the music shares DNA with The Colours Of Life, it's more somber, and vocals play a prominent role. Comparing the two, Silver describes Radiance & Submission as "more earnest and way more in a chamber jazz, modern pop, classical sound. I was just trying to do a folk record." At the time he was listening to a lot of Joni Mitchell, Terry Callier, Mount Eerie and Steve Reich, and wanted to make ambient electronic music with acoustic guitar as a focal point.
Although the core components of The Colours of Life and Radiance & Submission have long peppered his releases, Silver admits that the two albums were the first time that he effectively distilled these elements into what he describes as "easily digestible morsels." On Vacation is a continuation of that effort, and though its songs were initially conceptualized as part of two separate EPs—with ironic working titles of Road Movie and House Music—he was convinced to combine them into a single release by Paul Byrne (AKA Apiento) of the influential Testpressing website, who also does A&R for International Feel.
With its airy melodies, glossy marimbas and generous use of slap bass, On Vacation is both alien and oddly familiar, coming across like a slightly warped, albeit totally entrancing take on the sort of music that gets piped into luxury spas. "The overall vibe of it ended up being really varied, but with a lot of relaxed themes and relaxed tones," says Silver. "The style is really organic and stripped down and relatively light. I think it's very jazz inflected, but not in a smooth jazz way. It's like ECM jazz."
On Vacation surfaced earlier this month, just a few days after Silver found himself taking a trip to Los Angeles following a surprise Grammy nomination for his remix of Daniel Hope's performance of Max Richter's violin composition "Berlin By Overnight." Although he didn't win, he's both self-deprecating and gracious about the recognition, joking that he was "dead at the bottom" on the list of Canadian nominees that made the rounds in the press.
At the same time, there's no denying the Grammy nod contributed to the current momentum surrounding CFCF—the nomination prompted a feature in the New York Times. Between that and the recent groundswell of electronic artists and labels referencing and celebrating new age and Balearic sounds (Mood Hut, Music From Memory, etc.), one might expect Silver to continue mining his recent musical palette. But he has other ideas, preferring to shift his focus back toward the dance floor. Late last year, Silver issued a low-profile 12-inch, Head Up, and while it reflected his talent for breezy melodies, the record was essentially three pumping, retro-flavored house workouts. He expects his next one to continue in that direction.
"It's another departure for me," says Silver. "I'm trying to interact and interface with the music that I grew up with or grew up around in a straightforward way and make electronic music, specifically electronic music, referencing both the techno and electronica that I grew up with and some of the pop and alternative rock, too. It's a weird, late '90s period piece, but with a modern approach."
It's hard to think of much music that's less cool right now than the raucous sounds of late-'90s alt-rock and electronica, but Silver seems thrilled by the prospect of returning to his roots. With his track record, he just might be onto something.