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Sunday, June 12, 2005
Playlist Plus: Dream Pop
Dream Pop is another one of those genres that doesn't derive from a particular musical discipline, such as country-rock, blues-rock, jazz-rock, etc. Nor does it describe a new musical hybrid, in the sense of funk, or heavy metal. It's not about an attitude like punk, or noise pop, or lo-fi. Artists that have been pigeonholed as dream pop are spread far and wide, and encompass many different and unrelated styles.
Yet dream pop is also one of those genres, like emo, that can be identified in an instant. It's the kind of music that's hard to put a finger on, but you know it when you hear it.
It is, however, a term in widespread use, so it is referring to a certain common and crucial element that can be found in all bands classifiable as dream pop. Sonically, its touchstones are breathy, airy vocals, usually sung by a woman, or a male/female harmonic duo atop heavily processed guitars and synthesizers, given production that lends a shimmer and a sheen to the sound, creating an ethereal otherworldliness to the recording.
It shares much with shoegaze, space rock, twee pop, and noise pop, but is distinct from each in that it avoids overly abrasive textures for the most part, relying instead in establishing a general ambience of languid disassociation. It's escapist and pretty, but sometimes ominous.
The landmark band generally given credit for inventing the form are the Cocteau Twins in the mid-80's, who relied on lush soundscapes and glistening female vocals with cryptic, dreamy lyrics. This sound came to define their record label, London-based 4AD, which became specialists in the dream pop genre. The guitar rock and gentle sad ambience of Galaxie 500 gave additional shape to the form in the late 80's; also a major influence were the subgenre crossing shoegaze/noise pop pioneers, My Bloody Valentine.
In the 1990's these influences and others were absorbed and reinterpreted by a second wave of bands on both sides of the Atlantic, and within continental Europe. By the late 1990's the style peaked, although it remains popluar to this day. Most dream pop has been recorded for independent labels, although more and more of it appears on major label releases, too.
Some important/influential dream-pop artists/songs include:
1. Cocteau Twins: Lorelei iTunes
The Cocteau Twins were formed in Grangemouth, Scotland, in 1979. "Lorelei" comes from their third album, Treasure, released in 1984. It's as good a marker as the starting point for dream pop as anything, and it established the band's trademark sound: Elizabeth Fraser's high register, honeyed vocals, steady percussion fills, big guitar, echo, and incomprehensible lyrics. The band released nine albums during a 1982-1996 recording career; they're all pretty-good to pretty-great, and represent one aspect of dream pop better than anyone else. Their name was taken from a song by fellow Scots, Simple Minds.
2. Mazzy Star: Fade Into You iTunes
Mazzy Star's 1993 left-field near-hit is a slow waltz featuring Hope Sandoval's wistful vocals and David Roback's atmospheric strumming and reverb-laden fills. Mazzy Star's dream pop had a vaguely darker edge to it, relying often on semi-hallucinatory guitar effects. "Fade Into You" is from their best album, So Tonight That I Might See, which reached the top-40 in 1994. So Tonight That I Might See is something of a dream pop tour de force, as the guitar textures take the listener through a dozen distinct sounds and moods, with Sndoval's eerily detached vocals the constant. Mazzy Star only cut three albums during their brief recording career, all are worth investigating.
3. Galaxie 500: Fourth Of July iTunes
Enigmatic, dreamy, wistful, minimalist, dirge-like, sleepy, somber; Galaxie 500's music has been called many things. Together, these terms do pretty much capture the soul of the band, a Boston-based group which released three albums in a brief recording career spanning 1988-1990. Though they never rose above minor cult status within their day, they have now been recognized as a pivotal post-punk indie band, and important keystone in dream pop's development. "Fourth of July" is an uncharacteristically chugging, propulsive number and kicks of their final album, This Is Our Music, from 1990. After an acrimonious split, singer/guitarist Dean Wareham, a New Zealand native, formed Luna.
4. Lush: For Love iTunes
Lush, a London band led by Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson, were a shoegaze-dream pop band of the early 90's that developed a considerable cult on both sides of the Atlantic. "For Love" is from their 1992 EP, For Love, and is a jangly number turned into a dreamscape via the super multilayered guitar effects and processing by the chief architect of the Cocteau Twins' sound, reverb loving guitarist Robin Guthrie. Lush are also considered shoegaze; they were contemporaries of My Bloody Valentine and Ride. Later releases saw them moving away from their shoegaze roots into a power-pop sound still using many dream pop devices; their 1996 album, Lovelife, yeilded two top-20's in England. Shortly afterwards, drummer Chris Acland hanged himself, and the band broke up.
5. Moose: This River Will Never Run Dry
Moose was another early 90's shoegaze band that evolved out of that subgenre and into this one. "This River Will Never Run Dry" is from their 1992 EP, Sonny and Sam, and is a blessed-out sunburst of sound. By the time of their first album proper, ...XYZ, the shoegaze textures were toned down in favor of a more whimsical pop sense that crosses further into dream-pop territory, an odd formula of R.E.M., the Byrds, Burt Bacharach, and Tim Buckley produced by Mitch Easter. The band never found an audience in America and were a cult item in England; they broke up in 1996, after three albums. A fourth, High Ball Me! appeared in 2000 after years in the can.
6. His Name Is Alive: Baby Fish Mouth
From Livonia, MI, and named after class notes on Abraham Lincoln, His Name Is Alive has been making records since 1990 and is still at it today. The band was formed by multi instrumentalist/producer William Defever while he was still in high school, and includes his former schoolmate, Karin Oliver on vocals. "Baby Fish Mouth" leads off their 1993 album, Mouth By Mouth, and is a crackpot sugar confection, with a slightly sinister bent. His Name Is Alive was another 4AD band.
7. Mercury Rev: Bronx Cheer
Buffalo, NY collective Mercury Rev has been producing some of the best dream pop/noise pop of the past decade and a half. "Bronx Cheer" is from Boces, a 1993 release that consolidated the disparate influences of their previous album Yerself Is Steam, and progresses from it, mixing languid dream pop with bursts of textured guitar explosions. "Bronx Cheer" is a lament; it is also a fine example of the underlying vulnerability that lurks just beneath the surface of much dream pop. The band's mentor, Tony Conrad was a minimalist composer and multi-media artist who had performed with avant-garde artists John Cale, La Monte Young, and Faust. Their latest album, The Secret Migration, appeared in 2005.
8. Mojave 3: Love Songs On The Radio
Originally named just Mojave, this band is an offshoot of shoegaze band Slowdive, led by Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell, and recorded for 4AD. Their sound is like a less Western-sounding Mazzy Star, a dreamier Cowboy Junkies, or a countrified Galaxie 500. Ask Me Tomorrow, from 1996, is their debut album and masterpiece, and includes this song, a hushed, echoed, drowsy classic. The key to their sound is the blend of Halstead and Goswell's vocals, Christopher Andrew's piano, which sometimes played lead, and drummer Ian McCutcheon's brushes. By 1998, Slowdive had broken up and Mojave 3 became a full-time concern.
9. Single Gun Theory: Words Written Backward iTunes
Single Gun Theory, from Australia, sounded like a cross between the Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance, and incorporated proto-trip-hop and ambient elements into their sensual brand of dream pop, which featured the understatedly sexy vocals of Jacqui Hunt. They also plundered the world for sound snippets, be they scratchy foreign radio reports, calls to prayer, Turkish devotional singing, Indian sounding instrumentation. While the band received positive reviews throughout their career, they never really found a large enough audience, and broke up in 1994 after their fourth album. Unique and danceable (a rarity with dream pop), they deserve more recognition than they've received.
10. Luna: California (All the Way) iTunes
Formed by Galaxie 500 leader Dean Wareham after the bitter break-up of that band, and featuring bassist Justin Harwood (ex-Chills) and Stanley Demeski (ex-Feelies), Luna was a supergroup of sorts. They took the same basic approach as Galaxie 500, but sped up the tempos and rhythms, and the instrumental interplay is more complex than the former band. "California (All the Way)" leads off their 1994 album, Bewitched, arguably their best. Bewitched also features guitar work from the late Sterling Morrison of Velvet Underground on a pair of tracks. Rondezvous, from 2004, is their most recent effort, and according to the band, will be their last.
Excellent, excellent overview. Saw Papa John up close and personal in the mid-80's and couldn't believe how powerful he was, although he looked frail, even then.Post a Comment
Thanks for the post.