Lists, Reviews

5 Essential (Neo) Dream Pop Tracks of 2014

Dividing music into descriptive categories can be as misleading as it is logically helpful. Genres…

 

Dividing music into descriptive categories can be as misleading as it is logically helpful. Genres often function not by delineating what their stylistic components are, but by excluding what they aren’t. This exclusionism leaves gaps in the definition of what elements actually do comprise genre. These gaps, filled by different listeners across the internet, with different sounds, styles and theme, leave the entire concept a rotten apple of subjectivity. 

Dream pop is the most rotten apple in the basket. Its current meaning to the average 90s-born music blog acolyte lies so far from originality that it seems, at first glance, ignorant to pin the term to anything vaguely electronic, airy and contemplative. Dream pop can be traced back to George Har-rison’s All Things Must Pass (1970) as a sub-genre of alternative rock, but exists as something unrecognisable today. The album’s ‘wall of sound’ quality was a textured and echoing production technique synonymous with the indistinct haziness of dreaming. Subsequent bands like Slowdive and The Radio Dept. furthered this association not only to embody dreaming in the physiological sense, but also philosophical dreaming. Romantic escapism, stoned idealism and lackadaisical mindlessness were common themes under the welcoming and ever-increasing umbrella term that was ‘dream pop’ in the late 1900s. 

The DIY music culture of the 2000s opened the floodgates of inexactitude in dream pop. Bedroom-based and internet-famous artists like Neon Indian and Washed Out began to reformulate the sonic guitars and meditative vocal texture of preceding dreamers. Their medium of MIDI keyboards and Garageband lead to a musicality that was stylistically too unique to live in the crowded house of dream pop. As the multitude of diversifying internet genres continued to define themselves in opposition to one other, definitional genre gaps continued to grow. 

Against an observation of the music labelled ‘dream pop’ nowadays, this list attempts to fill some genre gaps, whilst avoiding as much rotten subjectivity as it possible. The dream pop of 2014 grew up in a tidier bedroom than the mess of blunt-butts and DAZED&CONFUSED issues that is chill-wave and has shaken the existential melancholy of its younger self. Today, it adopts a more literal association to the music placed in its pigeonhole. The artists thought by critics, listeners and them-selves to associate with the dream pop label find themselves closer to the chorus-focussed, accessible sex appeal that defines popular music, while only superficially employing the hazy synths, structured rhythms and melodic reverb archetypical of Harrison’s fading precedent. 

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5. Pure X – Heaven

 

After three years of shoegazing, Austin-based Pure X looked up to find refined pop paradise. Their latest effort, Angel, disregards the smokey haze and skating melodrama that defined Pleasure (2011) and maintains only their clearest moments sonic aptitude.  ‘Heaven’ opens the list as an example of a gradual crossover to 21st century dream pop. It is blissed-out, indulgent and still hides behind a wall of meditative chorus pedals. But Nate Grace’s vocals sport an obvious preference for being simple, accessible and unchallenging. “Everything we’ve been through was for a reason” he offers with a measured melodic strain similar to Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo. With ‘Heaven’, dream pop draws closer towards pop music in writing style and song structure with welcomed results. 

 

4. I Break Horses – Denial

 

It takes a generous definition of the genre to include Stockholm’s I Break Horses in list of dream pop tracks. Nevertheless, Denial epitomises the far-left field of dream pop’s electronic progression amongst a multitude of the band’s typically dance-rock tracks on their second full-length, Chiaroscuro (2014). It overflows with thick, digital mass, constantly obscured by a barrier of coarse white noise. Maria Linden’s vocals regulate the frenzy like an intelligent metronome while invoking strong references to The Naked and Famous and Beach House. 

 

3. Wet – You’re the Best 

 

Strictly speaking, this one’s a slight cheat. ‘You’re the Best’ was officially released in October 2013, but Brooklyn’s contently-underrated Wet are pioneering a sound too alluring and sexy to overlook. Overuse notwithstanding, dream-like is the only faithful description of Wet’s precise, multi-faceted and smooth mélange of female vocals, economical guitar use and drum machine backing. ‘You’re the Best’ is simultaneously sultry and endearing, lyrically capturing a duality between the mystery and simplicity of loving someone, whilst mirroring this aurally and aesthetically. “Baby you’re the best / we’ll figure out the rest” mouthes Kelly Zutrau with Imogen Heap-like liquidness behind a shimmering waterfall of guitar strumming. Wet are New York’s dream pop underdogs. But tour dates with  CHVRCHES and 928,000 streams of their four-song EP are sure signs of uprising. 

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2. Yumi Zouma – The Brae

 

When New Zealand/Paris/New York collaboration, Yumi Zouma, released their eponymous EP in February this year, tastemaker blogs and budding Soundclouders alike were drooling in anticipation. The Brae had wetted dream pop appetites the world over with its friendly, feminine, reverie of 80s synth-based pop music. Supple vocals glide around clean guitar work with the angelic quality synonymous with Chairlift front-woman Caroline Polachek. The Brae revisits the romanticism of past musical permutations that called ‘dreaming’ their identifier. Its nostalgic prettiness pays due the Radio Dept’s reverb-soaked guitar work at times, but updates their model as one of those songs that encourage singing along, albeit to unidentifiable lyrics ‘– a practice that amounts to melodious sleep-talking of the best kind. 

 

1.Say Lou Lou – Everything We Touch 

 

Over the last year, Australian/Swedish femme fatales, Say Lou Lou, have released a string of in-fectiously danceable tracks and double-side EPs. Their approach to soaring, celestial pop choruses have shifted the goalposts of what can acceptably be donned ‘dream pop.’ In the most literal sense, ‘Everything We Touch’ is the anthem to daydreams about nightly prowess, about glamour, beauty and indulgence beyond the bounds of reality. “I spent lightyears wasting my time/ until I knew your name” the Kirby sisters admit confidently, as it seems that Harrison’s introverted sonic meanders were merely a time-waste until dream pop found its true definition. Whether the internet has seen pop music appropriate the hazy aural quality that founded the genre, or whether dream pop has reached prominence in its electronic lucidity, Say Lou Lou are the genre’s incumbent ambassadors for 2014. 

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