Category Archives: Dream Pop

Alvvays: Alvvays

Alvvays: Alvvays

No one knows how important first impressions are better than musicians. As a listener, you never know what you’re going to get with a debut LP or EP. A delightful surprise has come to us in the debut album from Alvvays, a likable indie pop outfit from Toronto, Canada. The sincerity in their songwriting makes for an introductory effort that is endearing. Combine this with frontwoman Molly Rankin’s soft vocals and fuzzy guitar-pop melodies, and you have the start of something  wonderful.

Following suite with bands like CHVRCHES or DIIV,  Alvvays’ unconventional spelling is actually pronounced “always.” I’m hesitant to call their relaxed sound “carefree” because it is evident that each song on the album is carefully-constructed and thought out. Alvvays kicks off with “Adult Diversion”, which immediately recalls “Crazy for You“-era Best Coast.  The successor track, “Archie, Marry Me”, shares the same light, a summery feel and lyrics dripping with sweetness as well as being relatable, “You’ve expressed explicitly your contempt for matrimony/You’ve student loans to pay/you would not risk the alimony.” Rankin sings.  She then continues on to sweetly serenade the song’s leading man, Archie, in hopes that he will change his mind and marry her.

Though most of the album sounds pleasing to the ear, not all of the content is exactly light. Take “Next of Kin,” one of the standout tracks from the album. The tune is upbeat and catchy but, the imagery leans on a darker aesthetic: “No color to his skin/inform the next of kin.” The immediate follower, “Party Police” is another standout and carries a sweet sadness to it.  Rankin’s voice grasps with earnest heartache and longing as she recounts two individuals finding comfort in one another.

“Party Police” transitions seamlessly into “Agency Group”. It is on this track that their is a blooming resemblances to the equally hazy and dreamy Camera Obscura.  A beautiful aspect of this debut is that, so early on in their career, Alvvays is already managing to carve out a stylistic sound of their own. This is the first we as an audience have heard from them, and yet we’re already seeing a very clear picture of who they are as a band.

Lyrics that are as endearing as they are poetic, melodies that are infectious and heartwarming, and an overall sound that somehow creates a lasting sense of nostalgia. Alvvays has all the ingredients and are most assuredly an act to watch…

9.1/10 

Craft Spells: Nausea

Craft Spells: Nausea- In my research leading up to this review, I came across a list; a list consisting of 11 words from other languages that have no direct English translation. A few examples include the German word “waldeinsamkeit” (say that five times, fast) which describes the feeling of being alone in the woods or the Indonesian word “jayus”, which is slang for when someone tells a joke so poorly and is so unfunny that you can’t help but laugh. Another word featured on the list was “komorebi” which loosely translates to the interplay between the light and leaves as sunlight shines through the trees. Komorebi is also the title of one of the singles off of indie pop project Craft Spells‘ new effort, Nausea. The poeticism like the kind that went into naming said track can be found over every inch of the sophomore LP from Justin Vallesteros and crew. In the three years since Idle Labor, the band has matured sonically and has ventured into less obvious territory to create something that is just as charming as their previous body of work but with a refreshing new take.

In recent years, Brooklyn’s Captured Tracks have cornered the market on dreamy, bedroom pop. A great deal of their success has been in locating outstanding individual talents who, when joined by a supporting band, are a force to be reckoned with. Vallesteros holds his own alongside some other talented frontmen (Jack Tatum, Dustin Payseur, etc.). The great thing is that with each new release, we get to see each songwriter grow and discover more about their individual sound. In our recent interview, Vallesteros said of Nausea: “It’s more like my idea of composing an album rather than writing a record.” It shows. Vallesteros has looked past relying solely on hazy guitars and dreamy synths and has incorporated more varied instrumentation (flutes, strings, horns) to create sounds that are fuller and more broad on this new record.

The album kicks off with titular track, ‘Nausea’, which eases the listener in rather than diving in head-first. The mellow tone sets a precedent for what is to follow. Despite the obvious growth on the album, Vallesteros is smart enough to know that there are certain aspects of previous releases that fans really responded to and loved and has made a point to hold onto specific characteristics of his songwriting that make Craft Spells what it is. The relaxing nature of his music being one of those characteristics. Even tracks that have a bit more of an upbeat kick to them like ‘Laughing For My Life’ or ‘Twirl’ still manage to capture a peaceful element.

One of the tracks that stands out the most on the album, also happens to be the shortest. Clocking in at one minute and 47 seconds, the track is entitled ‘Instrumental’ and as you can guess, there are no vocals. What makes it stand out is exactly that. This is the first time Craft Spells have included an instrumental on an album and does everything a good instrumental track should do; it acts as a nice transition between songs and stays true to the overall sound of the album.

One of the big stand-outs on the release, other than the title-track, is the first single, ‘Breaking the Angle Against the Tide’. This is another song that ventures into new territory for Craft Spells with vocals layered in a way that is compelling to listen to and pairs a traditional indie rock guitar sound against some of those newly incorporated strings. With an album that, as a whole, moves at a relatively chilled out pace, ‘Breaking the Angle’ ends things with a bit more oomph.

With Nausea, Craft Spells have managed to strike the perfect balance between experimenting while staying true to a sound that made for a powerhouse debut. Soothing melodies, earnest lyricism, and well thought-out composition has made this sophomore LP a fine addition to the Craft Spells catalog and yet another building block to rising career in the world of indie music…9.7/10

‘Nausea’

Minipop: Chances

Minipop: Chances - After listening to this EP, I couldn’t help but feel a little sentimental. Minipop’s Chances contains four tracks that are sure to touch the softest part of your heart. The band, based in San Francisco, formed back in 2004 and released their first EP, The Precious, the following year. They saw some success with the release of their 2007 album A New Hope, especially with the song ‘Like I Do’. Now, four years after the release of their EP Automatic Love , the band is back to creating music that soothes the soul.

The first track of the EP, ‘Chances’, is like sunshine in the hours of the early morning, refreshing and auspicious. The song contains a melody so sweet, you almost can’t help but become cheerful upon listening to it. The lead singer, Tricia Kanne, has a voice that is pure and captivating without demanding too much attention. To me, her voice has the same effect as watching ripples on water – absolutely fascinating.

The second track, ‘Rocket’, sounds intergalactic in some ways, based on its playful intro. The fact that the keyboards are more prominent on this track than the others helps it stand out on the EP. The song is mainly about closing one chapter of your life and moving on to the next.

The third track, ‘Say My Dear’, is smooth and mellow. The song contains interesting lyrics, such as, “I don’t know what to think right now/The ocean’s deep when you’re not around”. Near the end of the song, there is an overlapping of vocals that is sure to make you fall into a reverie upon hearing it.

If the song ‘Chances’ is like sunshine, then the last track on the EP, ‘My Love Will Last Forever’,  is like the moonlight that graces the night sky. The meditative song contains sincere lyrics such as, “You know I know nothing will last forever/But I love you, so we oughta be together/I know you know that my love will last forever”. It’s such a darling song.

The band has a sound that is reminiscent of ’90s indie pop bands such as Mazzy Star and The Sundays. Minipop’s soft melodies are serene, which will help put you at ease. They make the kind of music that isn’t very jarring, but still speaks to you in some way. The lyrics are easy to remember for the most part, conveying a lot of meaning in a simple way. If you’re looking for music to listen to while resting your eyes, then you might want to consider this…8.5/10

 

Chances

Matthew and the Atlas: Other Rivers

MatthewAtlas_OtherRivers

Matthew and the Atlas: Other RiversThis album is a metaphorical exploration of what’s possible in life. Matthew and the Atlas often use nature as a stand-in for the complex emotional trappings that they feel in everyday life. With elements of bluegrass and synth pop, they weave their stories in a dream-like haze that is all their own. Lead singer Matthew Hegarty’s deep and sorrowful voice takes you by the hand and gently guides you through this world.

‘Into Gold’ begins the album, and like any journey, they are choosing not to look back. The song seems to be about moving on and not being afraid to burn the bridges behind you, which many might agree is at the very least a courageous choice.

Perhaps the most striking thing about ‘Pale Sun Rose’ and much of the rest of the album is how seamlessly the banjo is incorporated into the music. The instrument is prominent, but it is but one aspect of a larger style that has some synth as well as more contemporary elements. It is by no means a folk song as one might think. In fact, the synth strings in the final act of the song almost overtake the vocals along with everything else.

‘To The North’ is steeped in metaphor. It’s unclear how much of the nature imagery is meant to be literal and how much is figurative, but in any case, the song does feature a powerful mix of the synthetic and the organic in terms of instrumentation.

Later in the album the theme of debate begins to arise. ‘Out Of The Darkness’ is a diatribe against Hegarty’s own self doubt. It’s basically a break up song for the aspects himself that hold him back.

“Everyone you know one day will surely die, but everything that dies in some way returns” is the sentiment that kicks off the argument in ‘Everything That Dies’. It’s the point/counterpoint argument between pessimists and optimists that will go on forever. The instrumentation makes it clear that our hero prefers the latter.

The album concludes thematically with the concept of ending and loss, beginning with ‘Nowhere Now’, which is a fight against death. Moving on from the funeral, we jump to ‘A Memory Of You’. Unlike the context might suggest, this song is not about someone who has passed away. To the contrary, this song is about a relationship that’s in the past and this has moved the vocalist to lament, “We’re older now, and yes, we’ve grown apart”. This song is one of the most organic-sounding on the album — there are no synthesized aspects, no keyboards. It is simply a song where a man sings about a relationship that was difficult and is now done.

The album ends with the procrastinator’s anthem ‘Another Way’. In this song Hegarty tells us that, “someday soon he’ll live as he should have lived”. The song does not sound like a lament; it sounds aspirational. This song puts it clearly out there with no metaphor and no allusions. It’s simply the way things should be, and he is the one who needs to change. It’s a powerful message to go out on…7.2/10

 

‘Everything That Dies’

Lykke Li: I Never Learn

Lykke Li

Lykke Li: I Never Learn – Lykke Li’s third album, I Never Learn, finds her navigating similar musical territory as her previous two, but rather than sounding like a weary vagabond, she now seems much more like the intrepid explorer, despite her clearly shattered heart. It’s a little more stripped down, but that seems like a deliberate choice on her part in order to get to the root of her sadness. Li herself describes I Never Learn as a grouping of “power ballads for the broken”, which seems redundant, but we’ll forgive her the odd phrasing and instead praise her for the powerful album that she’s delivered.

The album delves into the emotions Li was attempting to reconcile following a devastating break-up that she went through a few years ago, and the songs are so personal that Li claimed that she never actually planned on releasing them in album form. Just glancing at some of the titles (‘Never Gonna Love Again’, ‘Heart of Steel’, and ‘Sleeping Alone’) reveals the palpable heartsickness that she must have endured while writing these tracks. And really, kudos to her for wearing her vulnerability on her sleeve and challenging her heart to a sort of cathartic battle in which she would either overcome her grief or die trying.

This new body of work includes more complex melodies and song structures, but there are still plenty of big, hooky choruses to keep more peripheral fans interested. The music soars on each of these nine tracks, even when they’re just skeletons of what could’ve been “bigger” tracks, but the weight of her sadness saddles them with a gravity that cannot be overcome. Her sometimes-smoky soprano lends itself well to the brand of dreamy synth-pop for which her native Swedes should be awarded some sort of medal or ribbon or Happy Meal toy. This woman’s voice is achingly gorgeous, but what makes her great is her ability to couple her vocal talents with a raw sense of humanity that most songwriters can only dream of.

Contrary to a few reviews circulating the sonicsphere, this is actually a more eclectic album musically than one first suspects. There are tracks built around sparse acoustic guitars (‘I Never Learn’ and ‘Love Me Like I’m Not Made Of Stone’), songscapes constructed on nothing more than the ivory keys of pianos (‘No Rest For The Wicked’ and ‘Sleeping Alone’), and crushing atmospheric songs that explode like fireworks of heartache (‘Gunshot’ and ‘Just Like A Dream’). Li has always been a talented musician who can play a multitude of instruments, but she really takes on the role of troubadour in I Never Learn that very few singer-songwriters are able to achieve at any point in their careers, much less on an entire album

There’s also a personal sense of bravery to I Never Learn that most 20-somethings are unable to really confront until much later in life. It’s as if Li is taking a nice hot bath in a tub full of regret with a Camus paperback resting in her sweaty palms and salty tears cascading down her cheeks. But there’s also a redemptive quality to a lot of these songs in that she’s staring down her demons in a contest to see who blinks first.

Obviously, this isn’t the sort of album that you want to blast in a crowded car of your besties on a road trip. It’s a celebration of sincere wallowing that most of us hopefully only have to experience once or twice in a lifetime. But the fact remains that we all have these paralyzing periods of overwhelming sadness, and rejection can be a strangely addictive bedfellow. For those of you out there that just don’t want to talk about it anymore, I Never Learn is the perfect record to cuddle up with as the tissues slowly run out and the rain softly pelts your window…8.2/10