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Towards a Unifying Theory of Smooth Music

Scenes And Sounds

Taking a trip into the Smoothiverse with Teen Daze.

By Teen Daze


I’ve always gravitated towards a conflict-free life: Hard conversations? Nah. Uncomfortable situations? Nope! Punk music? No thanks, bud! Our quotidian existence is harsh and jagged enough as it is. What the world needs now, both vibes- and music-wise, is Smooth, Sweet Smooth. 

For decades, we’ve listened to Smooth Music out of a desire to seek comfort, especially in deeply Unsmooth Times. The word “lullaby” is actually derived from Jewish folklore, and it means “lilith, bye” because apparently Adam’s first wife before Eve was a she-demon named Lillith. A lullaby is a song they’d sing to kids to keep her away, I guess. Smooth music for a very unsmooth situation! So whether it’s an ancient tune that serves as protection from a she-demon, the minimal, Romantic-era piano pieces of Erik Satie, or the early American new age music of the 50s and 60s, Smooth Music has been a constant in our lives. I’m proud to say that I myself am a contributor to the compendium of Smooth Music: When I put out my first EP, Four More Years, in 2010, the internet informed me that I was a practitioner of the microgenre known as “chillwave.” While I don’t think that anyone made chillwave on purpose, I was certainly inspired by musicians who’d been saddled with the term. It was and is a rough word. But look: It was 2009, we still all believed that Yes We Could, even if we were all losing our jobs! People just wanted to make and/or consume some downtempo electronic music! That shit was Smooth, and when you listen to it now, it still is. However, please let the record show that I am not a chillwave Apologist.

Teen Daze - Quiet City EP
Teen Daze - Quiet City EP

  • 1Quiet City
  • 2Life Style
  • 3Night Club

In an age when the YouTube algorithm might take you from the City Pop of Tatsuro Yamashita straight into some AI-generated Chill Beats to Study and Eat Lunch To or Alexa will gladly queue up a Spotify playlist full of easy-listening, DRM-free crapola, you need Smooth Music with a Human Touch. 

What I’m going to do for you today is break down a scientific metric I’ve developed known as  “The Spectrum of Smooth,” which charts the Smoothest versions of major music genres, starting with ambient and ending with rock (diagram below):


(Drew Millard)

So let’s dig into these five touchstones of modern music and really take a close look at how Smooth we can get. Because really, Smooth Music is Comfort Music, and wherever it is that you find comfort in music, that’s where you’ll find Smooth.


Some people consider Daniel Lopatin’s upload to his sunsetcorp Youtube account, "nobody here," to be the genesis point of vaporwave. (Side note: It was posted in 2009, the same year that chillwave started … Something must have been Going On.) With all due respect to Mr. Eno, Bookstore New Age CDs, and the sound of the Weather Channel playing in the other room, vaporwave is the Smoothest Form of Ambient Music. As a five-year-old child, I put a banana in my parents’ tape deck (I believe I did this because I “wanted to see what it would look like”). Imagine if the first tape I played immediately after doing this had been Chris De Burgh’s “Lady In Red.” It’s the same effect folks! In my opinion, a lot of vaporwave music sounds like a banana in a tape deck, and that’s a compliment! Anyway, 0PN has obviously gone on to make an incredible amount of music, some of which is very smooth, some of which is very harsh, and also some of which that is somehow both at the same time? He’s a unicorn, folks! What this really showcases is that repetitive, melancholic music with eerie pads and soft drums can be something that is not only emotionally stirring, but Very Smooth.



Would you look at that, a lovely example of Smooth Electronic Music right here in Nina’s own backyard! “Stress” by COMPUTER DATA is a nice taste of what the kids call “lo-fi house,” and if we’re talking about Smooth Dance Music, we’d be remiss to not talk about house. Whether it’s the Soft Around The Edges sounds of lo-fi House, as exemplified here, or the nocturnal, soulful melodies of deep house, there’s multiple Styles of Smooth that exist just within this one subgenre. Anyways, let’s talk about (and don’t let the title fool you) “Stress.” I love The Sonics here: The subtle distortion on the main synth chords; the subdued vocal samples; the drum machine sounds like it has a velour throw on it! It’s so effective. Also, this is just a nice coincidence but on some platforms the artwork for this one also has the word “Smooth” in the middle of it. There’s a lot of very challenging, atonal, Unsmooth Electronic Music, and while I think it’s a good thing to experiment and push things forward, sometimes you just want to hear some Smooth-ass music on the dancefloor.


I’ve talked at length about Kenny G’s “Sade” in my weekly newsletter Enjoy Music, but I had to bring it back, because there’s jazz, there’s smooth jazz, and then there’s Smooth Jazz, Baby™. Lots of people are gonna clown you if you say you’re into this kind of thing but I’m telling you, it’s just like any other type of music: a lot of bullshit up front, and some Very Choice Cuts in the back. For the most part, I am fully against Ken G (as his friends call him) being some sort of Smooth Jazz Poster Boy, mostly because he’s a complete dink. But my god, this song is very very good. And it really is smooth. Now, I wouldn’t personally call it <Pat Metheny voice> Jazz, but that’s another conversation. Right now we’re talking about KG and this smooth tune that he named after Sade (who, by the way, is The Queen Of Smooth Music … Also, there are rumors that the two dated? The sources are so sketchy that they’re not even worth linking to, but still … wild). Anyway, there’s a million reasons why Smooth Jazz received the backlash it did, and one of the big ones has to do with the casual nature in which Ken G was like, “Jazz? Oh I don’t know, I just kind of do my own interpretation of it,” in a way that implicitly steamrolled over the foundational contributions that Black artists have made (and continue to make) to the genre. So let’s also shout out some “Smooth Jazz” artists who didn’t do all those things: George Benson, Grover Washington Jr, George Duke, and many more people, some of whose names do not start with a G! Do your homework folks! Also, this tune always reminded me of this Jolley & Swain song, which means that if you don’t want to hang with Ken G, there’s other options folks!


Okay, so Andy Shauf’s dare I say breakout LP, The Party, put him on the map in a serious way back in 2016. But I rarely see people talk about is how seriously smooth this record is. “To You” is the Smoothest song on the record, if you’re keeping track. Let’s remember: we’re looking for the Smoothest Form of These Genres; while the arrangements on this one flourish in their Smooth, Soft Palate, the storytelling nature here makes it feel like it’s still a folk record! Folk music, as you may know, is not necessarily known for its Smoothness. Very few people have ever been like, “Damn, I’m cruising down to the local beach, and that warm breeze feels good: BETTER THROW ON THAT MF WOODIE GUTHRIE ‘ONE BIG UNION’!” I don’t know, maybe there’s a bunch of them and I’ve just never met them. Regardless, we’re talking about Andy: shout out to my guy who is so unbelievably talented that he’s able to take a Rustic-ass genre like folk music and make that shit Smooth As Can Be. Honestly, if more artists were like Andy, I’d probably be a lot more interested in hitting up Live Music Night at my local craft brewery.


Incredible to think that we’ve made it to the final side of the Smooth Spectrum, and it’s only now that we’re talking about Sex Appeal. Is there an inherent connection between Smooth Music and Sexy Music? I think it’s safe to say that Connan Mockasin’s Caramel was one of the sexiest albums of 2013, and possibly one of the Smoothest. Is this a coincidence? I honestly don’t think so. In fact, I think there is a connection! So here we have “I’m The Man That Will Find You,” which is an incredible song, and because we’re talking about Smooth Things, there’s lots we can take from this song and record. Caramel, the name of the record, is a very smooth word, even if as a substance it’s fairly sticky. The story behind this record is also very Smooth. It was made in a hotel room in Tokyo, and “Hotel Room in Tokyo” is such a smooth phrase that I might have to steal it for a song title. Again, if we want to get into the nitty-gritty about genres, we could debate whether this is indeed a “rock” record, for perhaps you’d feel more comfortable calling it pop, or maybe even R&B. But it seems easy enough to me: guitars, drums, bass guitar, rock vox. Now That’s What I Call Rock Music! Smooth rock will always make you think it’s something else. If you take a second to scroll through the Youtube comments on this one, you’re gonna see people compare this tune to some other artists: Todd Rundgren, Hall & Oates, Pink Floyd, Prince. Sounds to me like a Bunch Of Smooth Rock Artists! Regardless, Connan Mockasin managed to do what many have tried and few have accomplished: Make A Smooth, Sexy Rock Album that nods at its influences, while being Entirely Unique in its voice and feel.

So, there you have it: 360 degrees of Complete and Total Smooth. Now, we all know that lexically speaking, the word “smooth” is often joined by “supple,” so it should come as no surprise that such music can often slip around between one genre or another: Zero 7 is kinda electronic and folk, while Chicago is jazz-rock, and if I have to hear any more about “folk-rock” I’m going to throw my Prophet 5 at Darcy Hordichuk and see what happens. 

But really, being uptight about categorizing things is 100 percent Not Smooth, so get out there this spring and chill as hard as you possibly can.

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