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.
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
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 [i]Cranekiss[/i] 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.
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.
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.
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.
While he vanished before we knew it, Miami Vice left a definite mark on like-minded producers and helped define vaporwave. In it’s year-long span, his music came in fragments that went from one early trademark to the next with surprising ease. You had spacy ‘mallsoft’, sinister funk riffs, smooth jazz, and in this case, self-composed v-wave before that was so common. On the other hand, the thing that insists to haunt the whole project is this blurry, downbeat view of ‘paradise’. Where his debut’s ‘paradise’ was uneasy to the point it would fit an obscure 80’s disaster film, Palm Haze seems to steep itself in the heartbreak that can come with nostalgia.
It’s so sweetly eccentric on the surface; even with the groovier bits, each sound warbles and shimmers softly like an odd creature. Imagine melting synthwave into seafoam and you get something like this. Like the best vaporwave, MV opts to use lo-fi as a smooth balm that renders this weird sensation we call the eighties in a more tender and luxurious light. Once I listen close though, I get the feeling this isn’t a paradise meant to last or regain it’s old glory. As much as the synths burst with that eighties pastel, the melodies give an idea that they can’t keep nurturing and entertaining us. Whether it’s the voice of a broken toy, a worn VHS or the beach itself, they aren’t here in spirit. They’re intent to sulk and hide. The pleasure is empty then, but the refreshing part is that Miami Vice doesn’t look past the emotional weight. Palm Haze isn’t another edgy e-boy gazing off into the dystopia. The way MV does it, I can feel the innocent dismay in this scenario.
Whether you’re talking it’s period acccuracy, emotions or ghostly presence, that extra mile MV took in ‘dubbing’ these songs to real VHS makes everything three times as effective. When you render the 80’s sound that unmistakable magnetic decay and not another Com Truise polish-overload, not even a fanatic like Fire-Toolz can tell this was self-composed until I tell them. It brings this gushing, detuning effect that turns already eccentric sounds surreal while leaving them too ‘choked-up’ to clearly ‘speak’ out their sadness.
Take that lead on “Palm Haze”; the way it chirps and frolics around is just adorable, while the melody nears depression. It tries and tries to feel better and it doesn’t work despite it’s own sweetness. Move on to the farewell that swallows up “HyperColor”, ironically using the same bubbly synths as before, until it fades into “NeoSynth”‘s quiet abandonment. The outro to “Tropics” brings the most sublime textures on the album just as a tiny bell pleads to me and drowns it’s sorrows. The whimsy sits at odds with grief here. Is this how it feels to watch good memories wash away against my will, or burst a young person’s innocent bubbles? All I can say for sure is: it feels eerily fitting to revisit this when I’m approaching 20.
While “Tokyo Negative” was quick to strike a nerve with me through that forlorn twinkling, I’d call it the album’s ‘refuge’. I can see shores flourishing in a calming, cinematic slo-mo. Someone wraps themselves in a blanket, concerned for their future but grateful to have someone to help. (like the pair on the cover?) Even if they’re yet to the fix the problem, they can persevere through their support for each other. I want a 80’s movie with an outro like this.
Miami Vice didn’t intend it as a swan song, but Palm Haze wound up fitting the bill in more ways than one. Really: with a sound this lonely, coming from a project that wound up floating by itself on the internet, to haunt whoever finds it? This really is vaporwave’s lost sea shell. Fitting, but I have to sigh a bit when it promised so much for his future. Why do the best vaporwave artists have to go poof?
One reason I adore sophisti-pop is it’s SUPREME breeziness. Albums like Lilas have such a luscious yet steady groove that I lose myself in a blissful fantasy of the most refreshing morning walk. It’s something about the way the glittery keyboards shimmer over the smooth bass and such clear, idyllic pillows of harmony. On a song like “Esquinas”, the saxophone gets me lost in the image of endless cities or candle-fit cocktail parties. Music for having an easygoing Good Time, but the wistful way it frames the vocals leaves room for deeper thought without disrupting things.
I’d say the only thing that can enrich this further are some strings.. oh wait, they’re here, and they have a gorgeous way of flourishing into the arrangement just enough.
Well then, how about some Brazilian flavor? Evocative, romantic singers like Nascimento or Jorge Ben are sophisti bait, are they not? Having a past in samba himself, Djavan brings plenty of that, and the result is true ear candy if you like it smooth and don’t mind some subtle eighties-isms. (I don’t, of course.) As you may guess, the elegance of Portuguese and the samba-like atmosphere makes a breezy genre like sophisti even more breezy. For one, “Obi” brings a bossa nova vibe and the album’s richest strings, meaning Lilas has about anything I could ask for in a sophisti album.
This stuff is like gourmet strawberry pie as music; I’m sure my ears will always have room for that.
B.Y.O.B. – sister sledge / let’s go together – change / she’s strange – cameo / driving satisfaction – grace jones / heartbreaker – evelyn champagne king / still a thrill – jody watley / oh sheila – ready for the world / back and forth – cameo / have you heard the news? – high fashion / let it whip – dazz band / party train – the gap band / didn’t mean to turn you on – cherrelle / the character – morris day / don’t disturb this groove – the system / slow dancin – – phyllis hyman / thinking about you (prod. kashif) – whitney houston / all of you – pointer sisters / i love you too much – stevie wonder / family man – kathryn white / why you treat me so bad – club nouveau / the glamorous life – sheila e. / i want my girl – jesse johnson / i betcha – klymaxx
With such cavernous textures (all guitar except the drums!) it sounds like an established darkwave group. Their passion for this music is really on display. It does have a metal tinge but the tune is wonderfully emotive. Gaze into a giant cave with this playing.
To celebrate Netlabel Day and mark my 2 years on Vulpiano, the first label to feature my music, I went as far back as I could tolerate. This entire EP comes from August 2015 just like “Garden” (which I lifted from Mint and Turquoise Trilogy). I made the songs on the FL Studio ‘replica’ LMMS since I couldn’t get Garageband on my old PC. I was a younger teen who ~played around~ with music more than made songs. It was “Sea Shell”, “Cold”, and “Garden” that told me, after three years of aimless experiments, maybe my music had potential.
Many things set these songs apart from what came before. For one, it was a transitional time where I was just escaping a long-hold paranoia, so this fragile sense of hope left a mark; as did my fascination with the ‘awakening’ feel of the early morning. Sonically though, it was my focus soft, trickling synth tones (a trademark for LMMS?). For that same trio of songs 2-4, I used the pentatonic scale and loved it’s soul-searching effect.
The result was this shy, secluded ‘virtual nature’ vibe that may remind you of Turquoise Trilogy. I figure my obsession with invoking forests and oceans began here. I felt I finally found a niche to focus on, so I stuck with this style for a few months.
“Sea Shell” came first. It was my attempt to stop fiddling with awkward loops and make a pure ambient piece. 70% improvised, yet it has more focus than most songs I would make for the next year somehow. It has this twinkly sea-side sound that would pop up in so many later songs; and this happened before I got into new age at all..?
I have a lot to catch up with but this is an interesting music year so far! This particular mix wound up having a lot of rich and moody synth-pop along with airy vocals (AKA my default mood). I love to have some variety in all of my mixes though so we also have tropical vibes, ghostly ballads and some unique fusions. As you might expect from me, I focused my inclusions on less canon artists who could use more attention.
Σtella – The Race
Wild Nothing – Sleight of Hand
Choir Boy – It’s Over
Baby Zionov – Extract From Truth
Planet 1999 – Party
Sign Libra – Sea of Waves
Lido Pimienta – Te Queria
La Roux – 21st Century
Shura ft. Ivy Sole – elevator girl
Christine And The Queens – I Disappear In Your Arms
‘A gardening robot awakens among hills, rivers and mountains, not remembering an inkling of its functions and original purpose. Something draws it to follow some unusually fussy glowflies and amphibians to the rocky mass of the Chrome Citadel, where it will rediscover just what it forgot..’
An ALBUM? From ME? That’s right! After months and months of absurd delay, whether it was figuring out what to do about the cover (initially I dreamt of paying the amazing Mossworm to do it) or trying to get the quality right, I finally have my second album and first with all-new material.
ONTO THE MUSIC: I got my first 8-bit plugin in Spring 2018; Short Circuits is the result. I was curious about 8-bit music for many years before, being a video game person long before a musician, so this was a great way to merge my interests.
It was fun to explore chiptune hence a more melodic sound. In spirit, I’d compare it to a late 80s or early 90s platform game; stuff with mascots and goofy creatures like Mario or my personal fave Kirby. Like most of my more uptempo projects, most songs follow a pseudo-synthpop style. I mix the 8-bit voices with effects and external sounds too, often with bitcrushing. Even a piano here and there, including one (“Mountain View”) that I think Celeste fans will enjoy.
To spice things up I created a few new songs (1, 20, 25, 26, 27) and remixed 14 and 16 from previous releases; so it isn’t a 100% archive release in the end. When it came to bonus song “Toppling Floors” I liked it but didn’t fix some iffy clicking on it before it got stuck on a freezy drive (like the other original files for the album, hence tons of other WIP material; part of why my flow with new music went out-of-whack this past year).
Despite taking most of June to get the song volumes to work as a group, I don’t despise these songs upon releasing them! So that’s a relief and it gives me hope that some of you will enjoy it.
I want to tackle more VGM vibes in the future. To hear more of this in my music check out my first album Turquoise Trilogy, where “West Forest Field” and “Entering The Citadel” originate.