Genre primers · Guest post · Playlist

Genre Primers: Ethereal Wave

cocteau-twins-head-over-heels

by Jan

Originally written in Polish for Jan’s new music blog Anielskie Jajo. This is the first guest post I’ve featured here! I’m not sure how common this will be, but I’ll be open to more in the future.

About the guest author:

Jan (~shores on Rateyourmusic) is a musician and dedicated listener from Poland. We ‘met’ by chance in January when I answered his thread asking for recs in 80s new age. We had an immediate connection from there as we happened to share close opinions on several more genres like ambient, folk, pop and darkwave. Listen to Jan’s music here and here.

I. What is Ethereal Wave?

Ethereal Wave, or Ethereal Goth, or just Ethereal, is a music genre that is a variation on gothic rock and darkwave, transcending the dark imagery of said genre into denser, dreamier environments.

What’s more, you can say some bands playing “ethereal” sounding music who aren’t a part of goth scene could be called ethereal wave. Commonly the genre is applied to music that is related to gothic rock, but still a bit different. Lots of ethereal wave bands don’t play goth rock with female vocals (there’s a misconception that all goth rock bands with female vocals are ethereal), but uses certain means of expression that make the genre stand out from the goth scene – such as sparse, delicate guitar layers with lots of effects, soaring vocals (some using glossolalia), drum machines, and sometimes synths or keyboards.

II. Short history of genre

While lots of bands not affiliated with the goth scene today could be classified as ethereal, the style was born on goth rock and darkwave influences. The first half of the 80s brought us classic bands such as The Cure, The Banshees and Bauhaus. We could say that ethereal wave was born as a reaction to the murky and suffocating atmosphere exhibited in music of those bands (not to say it’s a reaction to ONLY those bands, just the scene at the time).

4AD was the primary powerhouse that made the genre happen – with bands like early Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins, and This Mortal Coil, the genre had a nice headstart. But it didn’t have a name yet, and it wasn’t established yet – music press just tried to classify the music played by those bands, and “ethereal” was probably the closest, and it possibly stuck. It was rather an unspoken artistic movement.

The second half of the 80s brought fame to the genre: Cocteau Twins had indie hits with singles like “Carolyn’s Fingers” and “Heaven Or Las Vegas”, while This Mortal Coil became somewhat legendary with “Song To The Siren” and released highly acclaimed albums. But it was Dead Can Dance who actually migrated to neoclassical and regional music-inspired sounds with goth undertones, today known as neoclassical darkwave (Genre Primers post soon!).

That was the ethereal wave scene in the UK. In United States, the genre was popularised by Projekt Records – a bit of an American version of 4AD, but they had their own aesthetic and credo. Bands such as Black Tape for a Blue Girl, Love Spirals Downwards, or Lycia were the most popular pupils of said label.

In the end of the 80s and the early 90s, the genre regained some popularity, and several new bands were formed. Unfortunately, the genre went out of fashion rather quickly after that – it could be said that Cocteau Twins’ last album (1996) in marks the end of the genre’s popularity. Yet still: bands affiliated with the scene were experimenting with the sound and expanding it’s influences, sometimes incorporating electronics into their work – notably Chandeen and Love Spirals Downwards.

Today the genre has a small yet faithful fanbase, and – what is really nice to see for me – there are more bands appearing who play in such style.

Finally, this is how the ‘official’ EW looks. ‘Unofficial’ ethereal wave can be found in early 80s new age records and some non-goth artists, but it’s up to you if you feel it’s okay to call non-goth artists ethereal wave or not.

III. Playlist

feathers oar-blades – cocteau twins / ocean – dead can dance / rains on me – heavenly bodies / cranes fly – black rose / birds of passage – bel canto / wish – soulswirlingsomewhere / scatter january – love spirals downwards / sparks – faith and the muse / mr. somewhere – this mortal coil / beneath the leaves – requiem in white / drifting – lycia / ecdisis – wind atlas / floor – them are us too / feral love – chelsea wolfe

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