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 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)
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.
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..?
Sign Libra – “Sea Of Nectar” MV
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
- Hello Seahorse! – Mujer
- Maria Jose Llergo – El Hombre De La Mil Luna
- Eefje De Visser – Stilstand
- Half Waif – Siren
- Agnes Obel – Island of Doom
- Kelsey Lu – Morning Dew
- Nailah Hunter – White Flower Dark Hill
- Kelsey Lu w/ Onyx Collective – Where Or When
- Lydia Ainsworth – Diamonds Cutting Diamonds (Strings Version)
- Pantayo – Kaingin
- Little Dragon – Stay Right Here
- Empress Of – Call Me
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.
art pop / folktronica / chamber pop / synth pop
More like this – Glasser’s Ring, Tess Roby, Danielle Dax
When I play this I feel I’m wandering the misty forests and castles, maybe even at Elizabete’s home of Latvia. On the other hand, her electronics morph that into a kind of vortex with their surreal, uneasy character. This is no shock since Elizabete calls her dreams a major inspiration. Not long before she sings “is the castle real?”, I’m sensing a computer behind the courtyard. Yes, this is yet another album where folklore and synths make a fascinating pair.
The same song can flip from churchy vocalizing to hectic techno beats in seconds. A simple feather-weight ballad like “Vienīgais ceļš” has me swaying, but something as flat-out bizarre as “Monument” makes me giggle. Beyond that, her lyrics go for abstract ideas like ‘following the shape of butterflies’ and forgetting her name. The memorable ‘it is not yet a forest’ repeats until the last song fades.
For all the synth shenanigans (she triggers them live with fruit) it’s the way she mixes it with her flute and distinct voice that stands out. The flute has a way of twirling around just so like a ribbon, while her voice has this deep, rosy richness. The two Latvian songs make good showcases for the latter, plus an uncommon language (“Vienīgais ceļš” again, while “Negribas Iet Gulēt” could pass for a lullaby). Like a wise mage, she’s discreet, focused; conducting some kind of research, but a song like “They’re Coming” shows her more playful instincts. With a colorful arrangement like that (flute, mallet, synth, horns) it could fit a parade.
dream pop / hypnagogic pop / hauntology / folksy
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.