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.
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.
indie pop / soft rock
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.
It’s Immaterial – House For Sale.
sophisti-pop / downtempo
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
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.
Eyeliner – Drop Shadow.
synthpop / new age
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.
singer songwriter / neo soul / folk / art pop
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 – Buscabulla.
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.
synthpop / darkwave
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.
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.
Klô Pelgag – Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs.
baroque pop / art pop
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.
Ichiko Aoba – Windswept Adan.
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.
Bebel Gilberto – Agora.
bossa nova / MPB / lounge
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.
soft rock / indie pop
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”).
Σtella – The Break.
synthpop / neo-psychedelia
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.
Maria Jose Llergo – Senacion.
Annie – Dark Hearts.
synthpop / italo disco / synthwave
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.
Hello Seahorse! – Disco estimulante.
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.
Moses Sumney – grae.
art pop / psychedelic soul / electronic
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.
electronic new age
’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.
2: Better Person – Something To Lose.
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?
1: Fiona Apple – Fetch The Bolt Cutters.
singer songwriter / art pop
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!
- Wild Nothing – Laughing Gas: new romantic. Listen to “Sleight Of Hand”
- Christine And The Queens – La vita nuova: synthpop. Listen to “I disappear in your arms”
- Backxwash – Stigmata: industrial hip hop. Listen to “Psalms 23”
- La Feline – Alentour de Lune: electronic / art pop. Listen to “BOT”
- Lydia Ainsworth – Phantom Forest String Remixes: chamber pop. Listen to “Diamonds Cutting Diamonds”
- Nailah Hunter – Spells: new age. Listen to “White Flower Dark Hill”
- Shygirl – Alias: UK hip hop, UK bass. Listen to “Slime”
- Susanne Sundfor – Self Portrait OST: modern classical, ambient, art pop. Listen to “When The Lord”
- Little Dragon – New Me, Same Us: Neo-soul, downtempo. Listen to “Stay Right Here”
- Georgia – Seeking Thrills: Synthpop, dance-pop. Listen to “The Thrill”
- Backxwash – God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It: Industrial hip hop. Listen to “Adolescence”
- Jukio Kallio – Fall Guys series: electronic dance music, VGM. Listen to “Beans of the Round Table”
- Half Waif – The Caretaker: Electronic, art pop. Listen to “Siren”
- Lido Pimienta – Miss Columbia: Art pop, electronic, digital cumbia, bullerenge. Listen to “Nada”
- Pantayo – Pantayo: Art pop, electronic, kulintang, R&B. Listen to “Kaingin”
- Ela Minus – Acts of Rebellion: Synthpop, tech house. Listen to “do whatever you want, all the time.”
- Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – The Mosaic of Transformation: Space music, new age. Listen to “Expanding Electricity”
- Lyra Pramuk – Fountain: A capella, choral, new age. Listen to “Tendril”
- Hayley Williams – Petals For Armor: Indie rock. Listen to “Simmer”
- Choir Boy – Gathering Swans: New romantic, synthpop. Listen to “Toxic Eye”
- DreamWeaver – Cloud9: Atmospheric drum and bass. Listen to “altered reality ft. botanical anomaly”
- Perfume Genius – Set My Heart On Fire Immediately: Art pop. Listen to “Your Body Is Everything”
Who knew Hall & Oates could sound so spaced-out? With the added synths and echoes, this instrumental could fit nicely on Flying Lotus’ first album.
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…”
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.
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
Isolated, often mournful voices wander through a specter-like fog of synths and reverb, suggesting ghosts and the mysterious tragedies surrounding them.
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
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)
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
Cover painting by Jean Dufy
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.
|1||Double – The Captain Of Her Heart||3:49|
|2||Alain Delon – Comme au Cinema||4:23|
|3||Viktor Lazlo – Clair Obscur||4:36|
|4||Marcos Valle – Fogo Do Sol||3:49|
|5||Jeanne Mas – Lisa||4:14|
|6||Gazebo – Lunatic||3:59|
|7||ABC – Confessions of a Fool||3:55|
|8||Muriel Dacq – Tropique||3:32|
|9||Prefab Sprout – Michael||3:02|
|10||Ice Choir – Peacock In The Tall Grass||4:11|
|11||The Bernhardts – I Hear You Calling||3:55|
|12||The Style Council – The Boy Who Cried Wolf||5:04|
|13||Alaska y Dinarama – Un Hombre de Verdad||4:30|
|14||Luxury Elite – blush||2:42|
|15||A.V. Walker – Night Silk||3:20|
|16||Moodoїd – Kasbah||5:32|
|17||Kim Wilde – European Soul||5:20|
|18||Isabelle Antena – Laying On The Sofa||3:41|
|19||Miami Sound Machine – Surrender Paradise||4:50|
|20||Presuntos Implicados – No Hay Palabras||3:53|
|21||Djavan – Oceano||4:56|
|22||高橋幸宏 [Yukihiro Takahashi] – Brand New Day||2:46|
|23||西松一博 [Kazuhiro Nishimatsu] – 残照||3:37|
|24||Anna Domino – Bonds of Love||4:49|
|25||George Michael – The Strangest Thing||6:00|
|26||Bryan Ferry – Windswept||4:20|
|27||Deborah Harry – Strike Me Pink||4:02|
|28||Beata Kozidrak – Żal mi tamtych nocy i dni||4:27|
|29||The Painted Word – Night After Night||5:32|
|30||Vanity – Romantic Voyage||4:48|
|31||Enzo Enzo – Pacifico||4:04|
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?