A mood piece of dreamy post-punk; evoking wistful nostalgia, riversides and misty morning air.
after the rain + something’s got to give – the comsat angels / feverpitch – vazz / anything – 24 gone / someone’s calling – modern english / a starting point – dif juz / dolphin – the sun and the moon / paradox – the church / picture frame – this scarlet train / ntr – be forest / what you dream + ghana ft. kwasi asante – black swan lane / marlene dietrich’s favourite poem – peter murphy / all we ever wanted was everything – bauhaus / kant kino – simple minds / the quarterdrawing of the dog – siouxsie and the banshees / i’ll gather flowers – area / never known – durutti column / the tinderbox (of a heart) – cocteau twins
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.
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.
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
Sounds like ghosts haunting the farmhouse of your past. What was once warm and nostalgic is now dusty, sinister, hard to believe. The wildlife isn’t frolicking anymore, it’s lurking! My ancestors’ rusty portraits took on a weird new energy since this time away, so much that I’m hearing voices. The Pilgrims suggest they’re enamored or pleased in some way, but it doesn’t feel right. Are they playing tricks?
This is one of those precious few albums which filter that special oldtimey, farm-life kind of spook through electronics and ‘heavenly voices’. As on their newer album, I love the way they frame their otherwise folksy voices with dream pop effects. Imagine a lost folk siren from the 60’s time-warped to today’s ‘hypnagogic’ scene and you get the idea. Felt Mountain fans rejoice.
Besides that haunted feeling, it’s the emphasis on synths that sets this apart from Perfumed. Like with the Ghost Box label, this adds a distinct space-age kitsch. The knack for eerie mantras wind up muffling this into a drowsier shape not far from a mangled library record.
Phased synth chords like holographic tears, dripping into a river to form some kind of dance. Then, the most gorgeously trembling verses I’ve heard in some time, making me wonder about this mysterious Ornella guesting here. Gave you all of my life and you told me we’d never survive / My heart burns heavy tonight / If you hold it up to the light / You will see all of the memories of a million lives. Such a regretful atmosphere, yet such dedication and hope when the chorus hits. When Brothertiger made his name with happy-go-lucky songs like “Lovers”, this reveals a compelling new side to him.
What is it about synth-pop that makes it PERFECT for bittersweet, vulnerable ballads? I am left baffled by the cliche that ‘synths have no feeling’ as usual. To think this is the ‘lesser album’ from a ‘lesser artist’ in a ‘fake’ genre (chillwave)… If that’s true, why did I play this 20+ times in January? I might be dumb, but I’d think that counts for ~some~thing. More important, how wasn’t this a single?
More like this – Hello Seahorse!’s Lejos. No tan lejos., Reni Jusis’ “Motyle”, Goldfrapp’s Black Cherry, Rajie’s Espresso
Denise Gutiérrez’s voice makes this band stand out, mixing rich velvet-like lows with powerful falsetto choruses in each song. Their synths come in many colors but the vivid, reflective atmosphere they create is a perfect fit. Synth pop is my closest guess here, but maybe not the kind you expect. This is more of a modern cocktail party in slow-motion with moonlight peeking in from the balcony.
Sadly, synth pop keeps falling victim to cliches these past few years, leading HS to use the same old 808 beats. Beyond that, I think their ears for melody are getting a lot tighter here. This is a great kick-off for the new year’s music if you’re obsessed with synth pop and/or dreamy falsettos like I am.
In the early tens, DIY artists like Toro showed me you don’t need endless synth rigs to make creative electronic music, and that the best inspiration can and will come from the solitude of home. He helped kick off a chillwave take-over that inspired many artists to come, whether or not ‘died’ within a year like countless articles claim, but it doesn’t end there. For one thing, Toro came early to the trend of seeking the 80s funk vaults for inspiration and gleaning the weirdness out of them. Without vocals, “You Hid” could pass as vaporwave. I begin to lose count with the motifs Causers Of This mirrored, if not pioneered, and this was the decade’s first month. Hypnagogic pop, future funk, our latest nu-disco crop, lo-fi house, synthwave, Carly Rae, alt R&B’s groovier corners. I won’t say he invented all this, of course, but it’s hard to deny he helped shape the decade’s indie electronic music. As his most hyped, ambitious electronic album, Causers represents these many facets best.
That electro-funk attitude became a staple for Toro, but in this case? Imagine french house doused in the ocean and ascended to space. He achieves this through hypnotic EDM pulses and murky synth ambience. His interest in glitches and grandiose samples distinguish it further, nodding to Brainfeeder shortly before Cosmogramma blew up. It was this taste for surrealism and natural variety that set Toro apart from other chillwavers. He defined a new genre while expanding it’s formula.
Like the best ‘bedroom’ e-music, Causers immerses you in the artist’s musical psyche, taking even a shy persona like Toro’s beyond it’s size. With it’s mutant synth licks making way for a disco fanfare, “Lissoms” suggests he brought an inner clash between earworms to reality, and it makes sense as a song. Each sound manages to blur into this delirious, weirdly calming vortex. Like the ocean itself, it flows along at differing speeds, one element to the next, coming and going. These changes feel instinctual rather than random. I’m not sure I know any other chillwave so in-touch with the ocean. When this is an arguable goal for the whole genre, that’s saying something.
With most songs fading to the next, Causers can sound more like a suite or spontaneous DJ session, making more abstract tracks like “Freak Love” work better in album context. Even so, a finale as joyous and straightforward as “Low Shoulder” shows Toro was already developing an ear for elaborate hooks. The title track loses some punch through it’s odd shape, but each riff has an authentic funk edge too much chillwave lacks.
In this ‘vortex’, Toro’s everyday sentiments will distort however he wants them to, yet staying in excellent sync with the music. Many lyrics resemble scraps from a letter to a friend with the odd metaphor mixed in (’Turn those fans away from me, they only dry my eyes out / Ever since I was born I couldn’t see’). ‘Sorry I couldn’t name the color of your eyes’, he mutters on “Fax Shadow”, proceeding to loop and obscure it as a sample yells ‘BABY!!!’ to the beat. What began a plain, if odd, apology becomes a broken rerun, where that old song he was playing last night got stuck.
As he begins on “Blessa”: ‘Come home in the summer / Live the life that you miss / It’s alright / I’ll fill you in / don’t you wait / for me to call your name again’. This wouldn’t surprise me over an indie rock sound, but the way he drenches it in filters and tops it off with his most angelic falsetto adds a whole new dimension. It’s like a hug from under a swimming pool. Despite his reference to trying hard with a job he doesn’t favor, or feeling reluctant to ‘let you in’, “Blessa” could make a great lullaby. It captures chillwave’s bittersweet nostalgia like few others.
COT is a testament to the potential solo artists can unleash with our growing access to music software. With a single app and enough dedication, you can create a world in your head, even from disparate interests. If you’re lucky, you’ll set the tone for an era. At this point I’m wishing chillwave wasn’t such bait for jokes; maybe then, influential albums like these would get the respect they deserve.
More like this – Laurel Halo, GAMES, Washed Out’s Within And Without
Bored of all the interchangeable synthwave? I’d suggest listening to Errors. As former ‘post-rockers’, I figure the little hype around these albums is a lack of the right crowd. It’s a shame they didn’t find one, since I know it’s not every day I hear synth-pop this expansive. Their songs deviate from verse-chorus structures, building as they go with relentless, hypnotizing progressions. Even shorter songs like “Putman Caraibe” turn a semi-normal verse into a mini-symphony. Meanwhile, “Pegasus” evolves from 4AD dream pop to Tangerine Dream in six minutes. They have me wishing ‘progressive synth-pop’ was a genre.
Both Relics and Lease use many trademarks like Linndrums and FM bells, but it’s all about how they arrange them. They center on weirder, extra-kitschy tones over the obvious Com Truise gloss. Without reducing their color, Errors find the danger in these sounds and take them to a metaphysical space. Songs like “Relics” and “Ammaboa” wield bubbling arpeggios like a plant’s sharp thorns.
The way they process their vocals enhance this effect. Most songs fill them with reverb, fading them in until the lyrics only come in shards, as if disembodied gods are singing these songs. “Slow Rotor” and “Dull Care” show this best with guest singer Bek Oliva repeating cryptic, sometimes tragic omens like ‘if nothing I can think about is real’ and ‘I’ll never get to sleep again’. I have few clues as to the meanings for such lines but they know how to keep me wondering and haunt me. Their singing along with quirky voxes and bells adds a cyborg-like contrast of feeling v.s. unfeeling. Combined with the fierce, cinematic tension in the instrumentals, the results have this unshakeable feeling of an existential threat, with the singers struggling (“Hemlock”) and deeply longing through it all.
Errors mutated synth-pop into a sinister, strangely beautiful vortex with these albums. All in all, another group showing how emotive this music can be no matter how virtual it sounds. I’m hoping they can return soon given how long it’s been since Lease of Life.
RIYL – early Cocteau Twins, 4AD, post-punk guitars, Chelsea Wolfe, Tamaryn, Them Are Us Too
Be Forest have a truly haunted and forlorn guitar sound that smolders over their songs like embers and fireflies. It sounds like an update or even the ghost of the usual eighties guitar twang. They manage to call on classic post-punk while finding their own ground within it.
Earthbeat is my favorite BF album since it doesn’t lose itself in the fuzz like Cold. or a bland, formless void like Knocturne. Earthbeat leaves some room for true songs and melodies to unravel. They merge gentle acoustics and thorned, distorted edges for an ideal autumn-campfire mood piece. Erica’s organic rhythms are the wooden logs and trees, Costanza’s bass lines are wolves and old memories lurking in the distance; their singers hum quietly like they’re telling you a secret about their past. In classic dream pop fashion, they create strong images and feelings without clear lyrics.
Earthbeat is one of the most evocative albums I’ve heard in this decade’s post-punk scene. Be sure to check out “NTR” from their debut too.