Warm up from your self-isolation and winter cold with a flashback to one of the most evocative sounds in pop and electronic music; from the haunting, therapeutic classic ‘Breathe’ to mesmerizing lost gems like Gaelle’s ‘Rain’. The sound of skyscrapers blurring together into endless bokeh lights; all the wooshing synths, e-pianos and warm basslines you could want. Originally a list on RYM.
white flag – dido / halo – kate havnevik / let go – frou frou (imogen heap w/ guy sigsworth) / o papierkach – nosowska / midnight lounge + love hangover – jody watley / loving you – lemongrass / rain – gaelle / ho humm – moloko / take control – t-love / sublime – supreme beings of leisure / everybody changes underwater – dannii minogue / juz za kilka lat – iza lach
slow down – morcheeba / you won’t forget about me (lounge mix) – dannii minogue / metro (from nancy drew: danger by design) – kevin manthei / a day in the park – ryuichi sakamoto / volunteer – grace jones / memory without consequence – takahashi & jansen / me odio cuando miento – fangoria / breathe – télépopmusik / fragile – kylie minogue / dizzy – siouxsie and the banshees / black cherry – goldfrapp / say – the creatures / goldfish – siobhan donaghy / conversation’s over – sugababes / have you never ever – margaret berger
Further Listening: – My own Curios From The Background mixes, particularly #4 and #5 – The Hedkandi Winter Chill compilations – Mono’s “Life In Mono” – Margaret Berger’s “Mind Game” and “Naive (16)” – Moloko’s “Day For Night” – Royksopp with Anneli Drecker – “Sparks” and “You Don’t Have A Clue” – Royksopp’s “Forsaken Cowboy”
More like this – Lukid’s Lonely At The Top (2012), Laurel Halo’s Chance Of Rain (2013)
When adding more 808s and the same 2-3 vocal riffs to old genres seems to pass for ‘the future’ in these past few years, it’s reassuring to hear something this hard to box. While his Dax’s mechanical, syncopated beats have plenty in common with techno and IDM, his background goes all over the place; from musique concrete to post-rock. He tweets: ‘It’s as if folks can browse my record collection through my music.’
His grainy, swamp-like textures have enough going on to reward close listens, but what double-sold me was the way each song transforms at such a fast rate. “I Slay The Pain” for instance. It adds several new ideas during any given minute, from a glitching piano to mutating drums to Dax’s own voice. In the end though, it has a coherent mood and every transition makes sense. These songs feel [i]alive[/i]. They work as a journey as much as they do as songs, with his beats bursting in all directions like we’re zooming on ships through his own future world. It mirrors the familiar cyberpunk dystopia but without that done-to-death synthwave slant.
My other favorite songs and moments:
The steely, mysterious synth pulses of “For The Angels”, resembling a more surreal take on space music. A fast-paced but careful build-up that hypnotizes me without making me wait whole minutes for single elements to pop up. Laurel Halo fans rejoice.
That mountainous, resonant crumble that kicks off “Catch”, reminding me fondly of Fever Ray. Like the rest, it invites my curiosity as much as it intimidates me. This cave has alien beasts lurking in it.
The way these hectic rhythms halt for the ghostly synth-organ and despairing guitar fuzz of ‘For 2 24’. The result sounds like an android’s-lament, equal parts creepy and mournful.
The menacing alien atmosphere that opens the ambient/drone track ‘NTHNG FKS U HRDR THN TM’.
Considering Dax’s struggles with quadriplegia along with ‘an almost constant schedule of dialysis, hospitalizations, surgeries, and recovery periods where he cannot produce, ‘ the sheer dedication he shows to his art blows my mind. If you like your e-music mechanical, exciting and/or distinctive, don’t miss this.
See my previous post for first single “Mouthbrooder” and what I’ve been doing this year.
Seahorses is a downtempo/’aqua-lounge’ project originating from way back in 2016; I was inspired by Spencer Nilsen’s Ecco The Dolphin music, the space age of the 50s-60s and ocean-themed library music from the 70s.
Tentative track names & sequence for Seahorses
Fish In Oceania
In Our Submarine
A Wandering School
‘B-sides’ “Lullaby For Sad Porpoise” and “Seahorses” will be exclusive to the download.
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.
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.
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 knifew. 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)
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.
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
Honored to appear on Thaw, a new spring-themed V/A album by net label Index Of Refraction, which focuses on crystalline electronic music. Possibly the most ‘me’ comp idea ever, so I had to submit something when I discovered the prompt in April-May.
I sent two songs by the deadline. To my amazement the label owner loves both! I went with this song since it’s the more ambitious one overall. The most exciting part is, this is my first time on a netlabel besides Vulpiano!
The thing I liked about this song is how it sounds like a hybrid of several styles/interests I have: the new agey bell sounds on Gemstone Study, pastoral acoustic elements, 8-bit synths, and the ‘digital nature’ vibe on my Turquoise Trilogy. If you enjoy[ed] those things this is for you.