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Tuesday, February 08, 2005
We've spent a lot of time in the distant past, for the most part, the past few days. So once again, it's time to get a little more contemporary, if not current.
Tonight, before we go to sleep, let us consider the genre of "Dream Pop".
Dream pop, put simply, is precisely what the name would imply. Sonic texture, in the form of breathy vocals and echoey, processed guitars and synthesizers, is what gives it its sound; yet unlike space-rock or shoegaze, its closest cousins, the songs still generally (but not always) conform to recognizable pop song structure. Most dream pop titles are under 4 minutes, most have choruses and verses, many are hummable. Sometimes ecstatic, sometimes melancholic, there are varieties to suit any mood. Acolytes of 60's psychedelic pop (think "King Midas In Reverse" or "Pictures of Matchstick Men") would do well to try some of this stuff out.
Cocteau Twins, with their indecipherable lyrics and sweet harmonies that float on zephyrs, are generally considered the primary architects of the sound in the late 1980's. Shoegaze pioneers My Bloody Valentine also deserve some of the credit, particularly in the feedback drenched, heavily filtered guitars often favored by dream-pop artists. Current practitioners include the arty Yo La Tengo and cult favorites Red House Painters.
Pop for potheads, one might say. There's more vitality to it than such a label would imply; but the colors in this sound make it a favorite among stoners, too.
But it isn't all about drugs, in the sense space-rock is. Like any good pop, dream-pop is intended as music to accompany you as you go about your day. Unlike much pop though, dream pop actually rewards closer listening; its indie aesthetic keeps it from sounding disposable.
So: as always, tonight's random auto-playlist is generated from titles in my collection with "dream pop" genre tags, a pool of 252 titles.
The first 10 titles randomly selected are profiled; Jam Tags, 1-5 stars, follow.
1. Luna: California (All The Way) ****
This could almost pass for a poppier 90's Velvet Underground. Luna was formed from the ashes of Galaxie 500 by Dean Wareham. With Luna, Wareham's voice took on a slightly deeper tone than in his previous band, and here he sounds like a cross between Lou Reed and Tom Verlaine. A breakup song lyrically, benefiting from the solid guitar work of new second guitarist Sean Eden.
2. Cocteau Twins: Calfskin Smack ****
Veteran dream poppers Cocteau Twins specialized in the dense, layered, shiny, gossamer vocals of Elizabeth Fraser and Robin Guthrie's shimmering guitar work. This cut is a little past their prime; once honing their sound, they stuck with it, and it had sounded fresher in the past. Still, their omnipresent ethereal dreaminess remains; fans (and I'm one) will like this track.
3. Belly: Someone To Die For *****
Belly were heralded as superstars and nominated for a Grammy when they arrived on the scene with this album, and inexplicably were washed up a mere two years later. Led by Tanya Donnely (former Throwing Muses). Stripping dream pop of some of its more precious pretensions, Belly relied on airy melodies with original pop hooks, combined with some very disturbing lyrical imagry. "Someone to Die For" is a fine example of their sound. They really coulda been contenders.
4. Mazzy Star: Ride It On *****
One of the loveliest of Mazzy Star's songs, done acoustically, but not country, not folk, and not pop. Hope Sandoval perhaps never sounded better than she does here; sexy and wistful, augmented by David Roback's lone guitar and a very lonesome sounding tamborine. Simple and catchy, novices to the Mazzy Star collection could do well starting with this one, although it's not reflective of the band's (equally good) electric sound.
5. Dead Can Dance: Rakim *****
Arabesque dreamscape with a winning beat and a smorgasboard of exotic middle eastern and Asian instrumentation and textures. Listening to this, you'd never guess they were Australian. This cut has an unlikely propulsive beat, flawlessly executed vocals by Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard, and is all the more impressive because this is a live track.
6. Mercury Rev: The Dark Is Rising ****
Majestic sounding epic, this recalls both 60's psychedelic and 70's progressive rock, but with an airier, lighter arrangement and bouncier tempo. As self indulgent as their influences, but without sounding full of shit, this band deserves credit for showing real progression from album to album. One of the better current bands out there right now, worth investigating more.
7. Galaxie 500: Flowers ****
More quality sadcore from this morose trio, with Dean Wareham's depressive vocals and crunchy, twangy, psychedelic guitarwork, and some excellent melodic basslines from Naomi Yang. Drummer Damon Krukowski bashes his drums, despite the slow rhythm, and leans heavy on the cymbals. Galaxie 500 is not a band that'll lift your spirits, but it'll make your melancholy a little more enjoyable.
8. The Boo Radleys: Wake Up Boo! ****
The poppiest tune on this list in a conventional sense, this opens with a horn fanfare, and bounces along mid-tempo with a McCartney-esque vocal and Beach Boy harmonies. With hooks that might even be a little too giant, I found this quite likeable despite initial reservations. 70's power-pop fans might want to check this one out, too.
9. Yo La Tengo: The Hour Grows Late ****
This is a quiet, pastoral number from maverick noise-pop/dream-pop Yo La Tengo. This has a late-night, gritty organic texture to it, and the singing is gentle and warm. Simple, impressionistic guitar lines, pattering drums, and a sadcore feel to it that recalls Galaxie 500 to a small degree. Ira Kaplan has a convincing Lou Reed gravel. Not especially representative of their sound, but a good tune, nontheless.
10. The Swirlies: Two Girls Kissing ****
Opens with a staccato, almost discordant guitar intro before launching into an energetic cacophany, somewhat reminiscent of Sonic Youth. Sweet vocals intersperse with plenty of guitar noise and drum bashing, threatening to fly off the tracks at any moment, but somehow reeled in at the last second. The Swirlies often indulge in synthesizer and sampling experiments, but this is pure, rugged rock with a rough dream-pop surface.
Great, succinct primer on dream pop! If you like the genre, you might also like our band, Blood Ruby. We play female-fronted atmospheric alternative music somewhere in the vein of dream pop, ethereal and neoprogressive rock. There are tons of free MP3s at www.bloodruby.com so come on over and have a listen!
Dream on! :-)
Thank you for the replies.
Blood Ruby; there's an evocative name. I'll be glad to check your stuff out. Thanks!
Yeah, like they all said, memories. Your silky voice would lend itself well to any of it. Don't worry, I'm not a "MySpace Freak". I never joke when it comes to music. Wish you played out more.Post a Comment