My music · On other sites · update

New single: ‘Mouthbrooder’ for upcoming ‘Seahorses’ album

Bandcamp

This two-song single is a taster for Seahorses, an upcoming 10-track downtempo/’aqua-lounge’ album I ‘fished out’ from my archive; it goes way back to July of 2016! I decided it had too much potential to leave behind and it gives more context behind my obsession with aquatic sounds and imagery. I’m ~hoping~ to release it sometime during March 2021.

‘Mouthbrooder’ will appear on the album, with b-side ‘Seahorses’ as a bonus track hence ‘hidden title theme’.

~

Also, long time no see. I’m aware that this is the longest pause between posts in awhile so I guess this is the time I let the 3-5 total people who read this blog know what’s up. On the one hand it’s the typical ‘life happens’; I wasn’t in a good place through most of 2020 for both obvious and personal reasons, and now I’m struggling a bit to get it together. On the other, that led to my many bubbling project ideas, over-ambitious as ever, to delay A LOT. One project in particular? It’s taking me SIX on-and-off months and counting. Ughhh.

In the meantime:

  • I did get around to uploading sample songs for 80% of my music projects to my otherwise desolate YouTube account! I’m hoping that some people digging around for music will find me there, but I’d appreciate if you subscribed! Especially when WordPress has this annoyingly closed-off ‘only members can follow’ system. You can find the full Spires EP there too, since that wound up the second MOST popular Vulpiano release on Rateyourmusic. It’s too bad I keep getting this feeling that I can’t get back on that level, in both ease of making the music and quality..
  • I stepped away from my ‘RYM front-page-review retirement’ to praise my mutual ~simoon’s new synthpop project, Bride. It’s a definite ‘lost entry’ in my 2020 list and she could use more attention, so give her a listen if you enjoy things like Pink Industry, Geneva Jacuzzi and space-age synth music.
  • Another RYM thing: I made a top 5 ‘best songs’ for my own music in hopes of giving viewers a more accessible intro to my discography. Yknow, now that it’s this weird cross between ‘archive’ and ‘all-new’ songs.
  • Other recent RYM lists: Mermaid Music, honey-like vocals and the best of 2000s chill-out!
2020 favorites · Playlist · Year-end

Favorite songs of 2020

Listen on YouTube

Yes, this is ridiculously overdue, but thanks to the extra pressure of a new year and a long-delayed piece I haven’t found the time to put this together for real until now. Consider this an update on the previous 2020 playlist; like that one, I sequenced it to flow in a way that (mostly) makes sense. See the track listing at the link or the ‘full’ version at RYM (a few songs weren’t on YouTube). From chillwave that reaches to the sky (Brothertiger) to siren-like ambient organs (Ichiko Aoba) and metallophones from the Phillippines (Pantayo), this should have something for everyone.

2020 favorites · List

Top 20 albums of 2020 (+ EPs and more)

From one poptimist favorite to the next, to a (great!) Fiona Apple song and a promising ‘new new age’ artist, my biggest issue with 2020 was vocal riffs. The same 4-5 riffs that 2014-2019 kept spamming WOULD NOT GO AWAY. I swear! From the impressive amount of good albums I ~struggled to condense~ into twenty for this list, not enough avoid this problem. Yes, I’m talking about the stuff I liked here. This sheer abundance kept me from embracing albums I so wanted to embrace, like Sawayama. If it weren’t for this, Rina would find her way ~somewhere~ here.

So, I hold most albums here in a close tier. I’m sorting everything but my top two without an order. I decided it was too hard to give them a real order anyway, so I took note from Bandcamp Daily. A lot surprised me with their consistency and a charming, admirable sound, sometimes a great vocalist. Other times it was impressive sound design. We got some wonderfully sincere tributes to misunderstood niches like sophisti-pop and many great falsettos/high registers. This felt like a good year for concise projects that don’t over-stretch themselves (Tennis, Riki, TOPS, Better Person).

I mentioned on last year’s list that I hoped for big changes to current trends given how redundant things got in the late 10’s. Well, in short: nothing changed this year as far as I could tell. Given the vocal issue, I could say this redundancy got worse. In fact, this made me need a certain mood to listen to anything new, so it’s surprising how much I listened to during the year. Let’s see here:

  • Many pop singers who deserve more imaginative writing (Kylie)
  • so much 2000s nostalgia boiling down to Y2K and emo/Hot Topic when we have much more options
  • Obvious synth samples wound up lower on my list but it’s not gone
  • The ‘new new age’ looked so set to blossom this year but I guess not enough people were up to allow that.
  • Thus I wish the less obvious retro music could get more spotlight. (Jessie Ware can stay.)

I could go on here but this is a long intro already. As a result, you might tell from my selections that I stuck to my more ‘dependable’ niches here. Still, 2020 gave me enough good tunes to gorge myself in for a few hours, which is nothing to underestimate. Hopefully, I have plenty more great stuff to discover from here.

~ The Top 20 ~

TOPS: I Feel Alive Album Review | Pitchfork

TOPS – I Feel Alive.

indie pop / soft rock

Listen to “Colder & Closer”

Jane Penny’s vocals are sublime as usual, somewhere between a mermaid illustration and syrup on pancakes. (Probably from foggy memories of a diner in the 70s, where they were playing Fleetwood Mac.) See, this is why I like this ‘indie Fleetwood’ business, they’re unleashing the ‘from another room’ energy in that stuff.

House for Sale

It’s Immaterial – House For Sale.

sophisti-pop / downtempo

Listen to “Just North of Here”

Cult 80s sophisti-pop band re-appears from nowhere to polish up the lost sequel to the beloved (if hard to find) Song. The results are a treat if you’re familiar with them or other ‘indie sophisti’ bands. You get the same wistful, big-city ambience and deep hypnotic basslines as before. Plus, the more recent completion means they adapt their classic sound with the warmth of today’s production without losing their personality.

Brothertiger – Paradise Lost.

synthpop / chillwave / downtempo

Listen to “Shelter Cove”

Brothertiger rides his synths like a tidal wave. I wouldn’t say he Sounds Like Tears For Fears, but the fact he re-created Songs From The Big Chair says a lot about his bold and immersive approach.

If regular chillwave is well, ‘chilling’ at a beach, Brothertiger’s music represents the ocean itself in it’s full expanse. Really, anyone who loves an oceanic flavor to their synthpop should give his albums a whirl. His sound gets more and more decadent as he goes, which is a shame when I remember how much he winds up lumped into a ‘dead’ trend. Besides, I would argue that he’s the closest thing to George Clanton, everyone’s favorite exception to their Great Banishing of Chillwave.

On the downside, Paradise suffers a bit from those rehashy 2020 vocal lines, which forces me to recommend the first half over the second. The good that’s there though! I can’t ignore it. If Brothertiger can diversify his melodies next time, I see him reaching a new peak.

Drop Shadow | Eyeliner | Orange Milk Records

Eyeliner – Drop Shadow.

synthpop / new age

Listen to “Drop Shadow II”

Luke Rowell continues to flesh out his late-80s MIDI wonderland, this time a tad bittersweet thanks to personal events. As I expected, the results are adorable, somewhere between a lonely night in a stylized NYC and a Wii learning how to feel sadness. I love how much he recognizes that this music can create genuine emotion even when most ‘cool’ music buffs dismiss it as worthless kitsch.

As an Eyeliner fanatic I can’t help but want a tighter flow for this, but Rowell’s research into this music ensures plenty of the same colorful sound design and unique references. To name a few: music boxes, Emerald Web but shinier; those glittery bells from Desperately Seeking Susan (!!!).

Ambar Lucid: Garden of Lucid Album Review | Pitchfork

Ambar Lucid – Garden of Lucid.

singer songwriter / neo soul / folk / art pop

Listen to “Universe”

The ‘garden’ in the title is a good sign. From organic folk to murky synthesizers and chamber-like flourishes (“Questioning My Mind”), Ambar’s fusions come together in the most natural way. That goes without mentioning the immense talent she shows at 19. It’s impressive enough that she plays most instruments here, but her voice is the show-stopper without a doubt. Whether it’s a fragile guitar ballad or a giant chorus, she throws herself into it. More often than not, she flexes to both extremes in the same song without sounding the least bit awkward. It’s almost intimidating to consider how she’ll keep growing from here. Keep your ears out!

Buscabulla: Regresa Album Review | Pitchfork

Buscabulla – Buscabulla.

synthpop

Listen to “Te Que Tiambala”

Eclectic Latin American influences and synthpop melt together like a dreamy gradient. Just the thing I love to hear in summer, and that goes without mentioning some luxurious high-pitch vocals.

Regresa was recorded in its entirety in Raquel and Luis Alfredo’s home studio in Puerto Rico, and is an emotional roller coaster in which they face and ponder the issues affecting them and Puerto Rican society at large: the frustration at the lack of opportunities for locals while tax breaks lure rich investors, self-doubt and anxiety, even the rise of religious fanaticism. Full of angst and an underlying sense of loss, Regresa — which means “return” or “to come back” — is a bittersweet, introspective, eye-opening journey.‘ – Bandcamp page

Riki | Riki

Riki – Riki.

synthpop / darkwave

Listen to “Böse Lügen”

Riki’s music exists somewhere between a mischievous 80s nightclub and a medieval dungeon. Some of these choruses get so big that I feel like I’m standing at said castle’s highest tower (“Know”). On the other hand, these songs are instant head-nodders thanks to a punchy rhythm section; if you like your synthpop with some extra pulse, this is for you.

Agnes Obel: Myopia Album Review | Pitchfork

Agnes Obel – Myopia.

chamber pop

Listen to “Broken Sleep”

My favorite kind of chamber pop; piano echoing into a distant mist-covered castle, warm shadowy strings lurking behind a distinctive voice; a lonely, genuine sense of mourning. Bonus points for some interesting voice manipulation; on “Island of Doom”, they manage to tap into that ‘chipmunk/monster’ spectrum without sounding like a joke.

Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs | Klô Pelgag

Klô Pelgag – Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs.

baroque pop / art pop

Listen to “J’aurai les cheveux longs”

If Klô is a chanteuse having bad dreams, her backing is a hexed gothic castle. While this album has the most gorgeous orchestration I’ve heard this year, “Manemeur” manages to combine spaced-out krautrock synths with some kind of nightmarish operatic harmonizing. Klo is taking more than one step into the void here, but she does so with actual concern in her voice. In a way, Notre-Dame feels like the spiritual successor to last year’s amazing La Feline album.

Windswept Adan | Ichiko Aoba

Ichiko Aoba – Windswept Adan.

chamber folk

Listen to “Prologue”

The “Prologue” to this is some god-tier siren song that someone should use to open their nautical art film this instant. Right away I pictured someone drifting by in the ocean, totally lost and half-asleep. They see a lighthouse in the distance, someone manages to rescue them and the whole thing feels unreal.

Everything calms down after this, so I hope that Aoba can downplay the guitar-plucking to go full mermaid in the future. As it stands though? This is an evocative, incredibly gentle folk album with that exact magic-unraveling subtlety that grows on me as I listen. I feel like I’m sleep-swimming in a fantasy world, which makes for instant me-bait. The atmospheric interludes help.

GILBERTO, BEBEL - Agora - Amazon.com Music

Bebel Gilberto – Agora.

bossa nova / MPB / lounge

Listen to “Bolero”

Color me shocked if Bebel and Co. weren’t taking note from current retro lo-fi culture here. With the way they produced these songs, everything but Bebel’s voice seems to reside in an aquarium underneath a shopping mall from the past. With a song like “Bolero” it doesn’t stop at sweet and zen-inducingly elegant like with Tanto Tempo. Everything has a glaze over it, everything feels like a weightless lucid dream. Finally, I can enjoy a more metaphysical take on lounge music without wading through sloppy glitches that ruin the pace. (Looking at you, vapor bros.)

Given that the vintage MPB from Bebel’s father helped invent lounge, making such a fusion was a no-brainer. To be honest, I see this as a way for lounge to keep up with modern tastes and appeal to the ‘cool kids’. I see so many possibilities here. Sadly, I’m guessing we have too much investment in proving our edginess (still? in 2020?) to give this album fair attention. If you have any interest in easy listening, Brazilian pop and/or this whole ‘from another room’ business, give this a chance.

Tennis: Swimmer Album Review | Pitchfork

Tennis – Swimmer.

soft rock / indie pop

Listen to “Echoes”

With singer Alaina’s high-pitch, butter-on-bread style and that idyllic seaside accent in the production, I can’t not enjoy this. At 31 minutes, this album sways it’s way by like a quick but peaceful breeze. Like TOPS, Tennis have a great ear for bringing that daydreaming, wistful aftertaste out of the Fleetwood vibe too (see “Late Night”).

Stella - The Break - CD – Rough Trade

Σtella – The Break.

synthpop / neo-psychedelia

Listen to “Cherry”

Warm folksy voice out of a storybook meets molten synthpop; like an island where odd but lovable creatures roam around in secret. RIYL italo disco, minimal synth and (maybe) Melody’s Echo Chamber.

María José Llergo - Sanación | Críticas Discos | El Quinto Beatle

Maria Jose Llergo – Senacion.

flamenco nuevo

Listen to “El Hombre De Las Mi Lunas”

Annie - Dark Hearts Lyrics and Tracklist | Genius

Annie – Dark Hearts.

synthpop / italo disco / synthwave

Listen to “In Heaven”

I expected much more hype for Annie’s first album in 11 years; is she not a cult favorite? Not to mention, this may be her most coherent project yet. Mixing her soft falsetto with this deep, moody lake of reverb leads to what I would call ’synthwave on the moon, at the end of the world’.

Unlike too much synthwave though, I can tell these songs apart! You get sweet italo-disco love songs with a touch “You Take My Breath Away”, hints at Annie’s roots in the chillout era (“Stay Tomorrow”); murky, vaguely sinister slow burners (“Corridors”, “Mermaid Dreams”); even the occasional 4AD guitar (“In Heaven”). RIYL Röyksopp, Sally Shapiro, Twin Peaks, Italians Do It Better.

Disco estimulante by Hello Seahorse! (Album, Synthpop): Reviews, Ratings,  Credits, Song list - Rate Your Music

Hello Seahorse! – Disco estimulante.

synthpop

Listen to “Sublime”

Denise Gutiérrez has a refined yet powerful voice that continues to make this band stand out. Synthpop is my closest match here, but not the kind for those eighties dancing GIFs. This has me picturing a metaphysical, slo-mo dance sequence; a cocktail party deep in the night.

Græ - Wikipedia

Moses Sumney – grae.

art pop / psychedelic soul / electronic

Listen to “Conveyer”

I love how hard it is to classify Moses. grae is groovy and delirious one minute and an eerie slow-burner the next. Bizarre vocal glitching (“Conveyer”) a wall of eccentric falsettos over synthesizer (“Bystanders”), boisterous orchestration (“Virile”); I could go on. Even in Grae’s slower moments, the way he goes all over the place with his instrumentation ensures that every track has ~something~ creative to offer.

Like Kelsey Lu, Moses seems the type to get the ‘art pop’ category because nothing else is loose enough. When so many ‘fresh’ critic darlings blend together with the way they rehash melodies this year, I appreciate that. I can’t describe this well beyond that; it’s a ‘just listen to it’ situation.

Sign Libra: Sea to Sea Album Review | Pitchfork

Sign Libra – Sea To Sea.

electronic new age

Listen to “Sea of Waves”

’Computer. Play Enya.’ This is straight-up mermaid music on Vangelis’ digital synths if you polished them with some gorgeously clear reverb. More at my review for Sonemic’s front page.

Something to Lose | Better Person

2: Better Person – Something To Lose.

sophisti-pop

Listen to “Close To You”

This is the way to bring sophisti-pop back! You apply it’s gift for wistful nostalgia to your own ~genuine~ sentiments, you study the original sounds and production and you use the modern obsession with hauntology to give it that extra-dreamy shimmer. This isn’t just that cool breeze I felt with the songs on my Sophisti-Pop Stroll mix, I’m melting in it somehow. Heart-throb music from heaven?

Roundtable: A Review of Fiona Apple's 'Fetch the Bolt Cutters' - Atwood  Magazine

1: Fiona Apple – Fetch The Bolt Cutters.

singer songwriter / art pop

Listen to “Heavy Balloon”

Yyyeah you know about this one already. Fiona is the type I admired more for her lyrics and iconography than actual sound, so I’m happy to enjoy this so much. I’ll credit that to the thrilling percussion sections, the sass in her voice and some eye-opening lyrics. I think a lot about the way she described the title. Also: the way the real Shameika met up with her again to collaborate!

EPs

Other favorites

hidden treasure

Akua Naru – … The Journey Aflame, 2011

More like this – Noname’s Room 25, Nujabes’ Metaphorical Music, Queen Latifah’s Black Reign

This is for Latifah, for Lyte, for Shante Bahamadia, Lauryn Hill, Heather B, for Jean Grae E-V-E, Nikki D, Salt-N-Pepa, even me Apani B, for Missy, for Kim, and Foxy

This is for, Rah Digga, Rage, Left Eye, for Yo-Yo, Paula Perry, Nonchalant, Da Brat, for Jane Doe Rage, Mystic, BO$$, Sparky D

For those never seen / On the search for female emcees

This song isn’t the only tribute to female rappers, but it’s the most thorough that I know (as far as it goes with a nine-year-old album).

It took half a listen for the full thing to make it’s way into my favorites in hip hop. To be honest with you, I was 14 the last time I gave hip hop some thorough ‘research’ and this reawakened the old spark I had with it. I’ll credit this to the wonderfully rich, mellowed out flourishes all over the production and Akua Naru’s hypnotic delivery. If you love tight drums and a ‘blurred jazz’ aesthetic in this music as much as I do, don’t miss out! “Find Yourself” should appeal to LA-beat fans too.

A laid-back tone like hers adds to a sophisticated ‘chillout’ or ‘coffee house’ vibe, but her attitude is confident and assertive enough to call my attention. I’m no expert, but her flow made me dizzy at points.

♥︎ – “The Ride”, “The Backflip”, “Nag Chompa”, “Run Away”, “The Block”, “The Journey…”

Mix

Sophisti-Pop Serenade

Listen on Youtube

Sophisti-Pop mix series: Summer / Stroll

More ‘eighties noir’: Is It A Crime?

Elegant ballads and slow grooves from the eighties paint a romantic, sometimes elusive picture of city nightlife. ‘Smooth’ radio shows blur together into the distant cars as hundreds of tiny lights fill the darkness.

Track list

golden war – blue camera / subterraneo amor – cecilia toussaint / lilly et bill – blues trottoir / living in confusion + living all alone – phyllis hyman / midnight mood – kashif / victor should have been a jazz musician + i’ve done it again – grace jones / make me a believer – luther vandross / esquinas – djavan / pleurer des rivieres – viktor lazlo / to tak jak gdyby ktos – ewa bem / ten minutes – isabelle antena / all the world loves lovers – prefab sprout / fantasy (pioneerball remix) – tesla boy / che vita ha fatto – lucio battisti / ocale cie – 2plus1 / cowboys and angels – george michael / the night owl – nits / slow – sunset rollercoaster / transeunte sin identidad – virus / fear – sade / from a late night train – the blue nile / when all things are well – dani lee pearce / no te cuesta nada – javiera mena / love is here where i live – everything but the girl / scarlet ribbons – roisin murphy / holding back the years – simply red / gullible fool – la roux

Mix

Into The Light / a mix about ghosts

Tropic Of Cancer – A Color

LISTEN HERE

More playlists for Halloween: The Bitter And The Sweet / The Room Of Corners / Scary But Fun

Isolated, often mournful voices wander through a specter-like fog of synths and reverb, suggesting ghosts and the mysterious tragedies surrounding them.

Track listing 

poison arrow – yeule / your favorite color – lifeformed / possession – pastel ghost / moon in aquarius – pat moon / dreams – mushy / lazy hunter – boy friend / little ghost – metal mother / ambur – demen / island of doom – agnes obel / flying dream – tamaryn w. oneohtrix point never / visiting night eyes – samantha glass / call me – gigi masin / dance ghost – helado negro / master of none (beach house cover) – toro y moi / ghost dance – be forest / annie’s box (karin dreijjer version) – the knife w. planningtorock & mt. sims / crystalfilm – little dragon / patterns – suse millemann / no matter what – ioanna gika / into the light (siouxsie and the banshees cover) – darkswoon / vernal limb – camp counselors / vulnerable now – low city rain

Further listening

Sequencing this one was difficult for some reason. Here’s some songs I would include in different iterations of this idea:

  • Tamaryn – “You’re Adored” (2019)
  • Black Marble – “A Different Arrangement” (2012), “It’s Conditional” (2016)
  • Carla Dal Forno – “Clusters” (2018)
  • Grimes’ entire Halfaxa album (2010)
  • Cuushe – “Lost My Way” (2013)
  • Neon Cloud – “22” (2011)
  • Pastel Ghost – “Clouds”, “Prism” (2015); “Underwater” (2018)
  • Lene Lovich – “Ghost Story” (2005)
Mix

Sophisti-Pop Stroll

Listen on Youtube

If Sophisti-Pop Summer was the soundtrack to a voyage by cruise, this is a montage of picturesque cities, with morning walks downtown and thoughtful discussions with friends by the sea. Maybe: that bittersweet feeling of summer becoming fall.

Expect lots of gentle orchestration, wistful vocals and breezy guitar. This one’s for you if you like Prefab Sprout.

Track listing

prisoner of the past – prefab sprout / copernicus – basia trzetrzelewska / summerdays – weekend / children say – level 42 / mahalia – the bible / one better day – madness / my girl and me – gangway / obi & vida real – djavan / change – lisa stansfield / wildflower – blow monkeys / lá vem você – elza soares / teletrips – ice choir / iris – tadashi shinkawa / listen – johnny hates jazz / jocelyn square – love and money / second sight – the dolphin brothers / won’t you come back – breathe / advice for the young at heart – tears for fears / tell tale signs & the soul awakening – china crisis / new brighton – it’s immaterial / desconocido – golpes bajos / everybody’s gotta learn sometime – the korgis / far too hard – dead or alive / don’t ask me why – eurythmics / no te cuesta nada – javiera mena

Cover painting by Jean Dufy

Anniversary

Drowning in decadence: Tamaryn’s ‘Cranekiss’ five years later

Collaboration Paves the 'Road to Greatness' for Tamaryn's New Album | The  Village Voice

When we worship dream pop as this ~phenomenon~, it surprises me how hard it gets to find modern acts who capture the 4AD ’sound’ beyond some reverb on guitars. Patience in such a thing with the press is a whole other story. Hearing so much about repetitive shoegaze adds to my confusion. Hatchie came close; after all, she was the rare artist to get big through more than whisper-singing. Still, I felt Keepsake stepped too far into it’s own formula, with one chipper (and a little on-the-nose?) love anthem to the next.

Rather than falling into either formula, Cranekiss sees Tamaryn carry the torch for 4AD and escape their own limits in the ‘ol ’whispers over vacuums’ genre. This album takes us back to a time where dream pop didn’t entail indie rock plus-reverb; the band has thorough ears for it’s history. We get all the bubbling chorus pedals and dulcimer-like strums (“Collection”) we could want. In traces, I get some Vini Reilly, Be Forest and White Poppy, but these sounds work as ‘pieces to the rainbow’ rather than make this a bunch of emulations. (Albeit accurate ones…) They don’t overlook the niche’s gothic edges; as much as the sound steps closer to Cocteau’s late 80s’ sheen and both bands excel at it’s idyllic ‘pop’ side, I’m glad they see more to Cocteau N Co. than that one song.

TThe thing that made an album Treasure special was, it didn’t shower me in ‘plain old’ beauty alone. It took me from sunken ships to medieval courts to Christmas within minutes. It wasn’t a lazy IRL daydream alone; it bent sensations and time periods so much that it escapes words. This was true surrealism that made tapestries rather than textures; and no matter how vague they seemed, the Twins painted them with the same ornate detail as Vaughan Oliver’s artwork. Through the sheer decadence of their sound, Tamaryn achieve a close effect. When I put this on, I have one foot in a fountain made from rainbows (the harmonious, child-like euphoria of “Sugarfix”) and another in the vast ocean shimmering to the side. Somehow, rose petals drift by on it’s currents. At it’s darkest, something sublime persists in Cranekiss as it did with the Twins. Every single sound finds a way to flourish, all the way to the splashing drums that open the whole thing.

Their new electronic slant adds even more color to Guthrie and Co.’s sounds. When their range could rival a synth’s, both ’master’ and ‘student’ tell me it’s a no-brainer that synths have their place in this genre. Plus, despite using these sounds that Cocteau didn’t use much beyond cameos, they manage this arcane accent that blends so well with the 4AD vibe. See: the pattern that opens “Last”, recalling the medieval plucks you’d hear on It’ll End In Tears and modern synthwave with one sound.

Add some leftover shoegaze from Tamaryn’s roots to expand songs rather than crowd them, and Cranekiss unites most major ‘sides’ of dream pop. Through this, they bring each song a backdrop to get lost in just as their bolder, vastly improving hooks find room to soar like “Stay With Me” did; years before Hatchie too. Take the single “Last”. Despite the tenderness in Tamaryn’s voice, feedback seems to carry the baggage as it levitates around her modern pop melody, incredibly lonely behind the grit. I’m as high as the skyscrapers before I know it when the album’s hugest chorus takes flight, with Tamaryn quivering sweetly through her highest notes (‘Hang up before you leave’). It’s a thrill to hear such ambitious ‘pure pop’ from someone who hid so much before. It’s cathartic, it marches on; but it does a gorgeous job at capturing the weight of the rejection that lingers. The feedback from earlier adds tension just as it gives me a glance into the distant city.

Tamaryn | Swampbooking

Cranekiss maintains such a balance that it’s ‘extremes’ (like ’shoegaze VS pop’ or ‘dark VS light’) flow together in a sublime gradient. Neon and pastel can streak through dark clouds. The dip we take into moodier ‘atmosphere pieces’ makes sense thanks to this and like-minded sequencing. Before they can lose their focus, they get their own sonic variety and subtler (though no less alluring) hooks creeping through. For instance, the synth that shatters under jagged guitars and a lurching beat in “Fade Away”, making the chorus rumble like a storm. Right after, “Won’t Be Found” has Tamaryn’s whispering monologue just about melt in fx and guitar wash, until the siren-like chorus kicks in to suck us deeper in the murk. They took longer to grasp me, sure, but if you have a passion for the atmosphere this genre brings, the slow-burn shouldn’t take too long.

With all that in mind, it’s no wonder Tamaryn explained the title as ‘a kiss that takes you over’ and ‘being craned into the sky by somebody’. With the music smothering us in it’s waves, her own voice yanks us along for the ride. Both are just as likely to lure someone to danger as they could to paradise; her lurking presence completes the effect.

Tamaryn - Music on Google Play

I hate to gab so much about Cocteau-isms if I’m honest, since a close listen should set Tamaryn’s voice apart. While her timbre is deeper by nature, she adds a taste for subtle and playful darkness not too far from Siouxsie’s. If Fraser was the belting ‘goddess’ from the sky, Tamaryn is a blood-red rose with thorns; honey that trickles slowly as you wonder whether it’s poison or not. For all her lurking, she lays it on thick and makes it count, as if her words come in a fancy font. Now that the guitars provide a portrait for her voice rather than shrink it, we hear these nuances better. She can bring a much needed carefree spirit to an upbeat tune like “Hands All Over Me” now, thriving in the bliss around her. It’s that icy wind on the surface that draws me in, but I stay for the resonant warmth inside.

In absorbing dream pop’s history into her own personality, Tamaryn creates the most decadent yet balanced revival that I know. Whether you prefer one Cocteau era or all; whether you’re more about shoegaze, ethereal wave or Hatchie, Cranekiss has something for you. While I can’t decide if it’s a true update or a delicious modern tribute, it tells me that the 4AD ‘sound’ belongs in our Bandcamp era and deserves an electronic revision. After five years, when many peers vanished or moved on (Sleep Over, Boy Friend; in a way, Tamaryn herself!), I wish someone new could pick up on that idea.

Well then… did that get a little dense for you? No surprise if so, since I could write you a little essay on the textures here; this was my hardest review in months and months. But, as I’m sure you can tell, I think all dream pop should aspire to that reaction.

Mix

Sophisti-Pop Summer now on Mixcloud!

sophisti cover

LISTEN HERE

It was way past midnight
and she still couldn’t fall asleep.
This night the dream was leaving
she tried so hard to keep.
And with the new day’s morning
she felt it drift away.
Not only for a cruise, not only for a day.

– Double, “The Captain Of Her Heart”

To mark it’s year anniversary I re-upped one of my best mixes with a few new songs for Mixcloud, a much more convenient way to listen. Go here for the Youtube list if you prefer that.

A summer mix invoking the romance, mystery, scenery and varying emotions of a lavish cruise as it begins a long journey overseas. Think sipping a cocktail as you watch the sunset, a romantic embrace by the docks or a suited pianist enchanting the crowd during their buffet.

This naturally doubles as a spotlight for the sophisti-pop genre best known for Sade and Prefab Sprout. Its cross of slick production and synths with elegant piano, strings, clean guitars, sax and/or brass has close ties to this imagery.

Track listing

1Double – The Captain Of Her Heart3:49
2Alain Delon – Comme au Cinema4:23
3Viktor Lazlo – Clair Obscur4:36
4Marcos Valle – Fogo Do Sol3:49
5Jeanne Mas – Lisa4:14
6Gazebo – Lunatic3:59
7ABC – Confessions of a Fool3:55
8Muriel Dacq – Tropique3:32
9Prefab Sprout – Michael3:02
10Ice Choir – Peacock In The Tall Grass4:11
11The Bernhardts – I Hear You Calling3:55
12The Style Council – The Boy Who Cried Wolf5:04
13Alaska y Dinarama – Un Hombre de Verdad4:30
14Luxury Elite – blush2:42
15A.V. Walker – Night Silk3:20
16Moodoїd – Kasbah5:32
17Kim Wilde – European Soul5:20
18Isabelle Antena – Laying On The Sofa3:41
19Miami Sound Machine – Surrender Paradise4:50
20Presuntos Implicados – No Hay Palabras3:53
21Djavan – Oceano4:56
22高橋幸宏 [Yukihiro Takahashi] – Brand New Day2:46
23西松一博 [Kazuhiro Nishimatsu] – 残照3:37
24Anna Domino – Bonds of Love4:49
25George Michael – The Strangest Thing6:00
26Bryan Ferry – Windswept4:20
27Deborah Harry – Strike Me Pink4:02
28Beata Kozidrak – Żal mi tamtych nocy i dni4:27
29The Painted Word – Night After Night5:32
30Vanity – Romantic Voyage4:48
31Enzo Enzo – Pacifico4:04