I go through cycles with music. Sometimes I need rocky, grungy music. Sometimes I have a need for some serious cathartic nocturnes. Then I’ll go through a period when I listen to nothing but electronic music, before I find myself getting all lo-fi with a folk playlist. One particular genre that fits into that cycle with a fierce regularity is dream pop. I think I always liked the genre, but it wasn’t until I bought a copy of Mojo in 2010 with a full feature and CD about Dream Pop that the penny finally dropped.
The compilation brought to me some acts with which I was already familiar, such as Sigur Ros and Brian Eno. Eno was possibly the godfather of Dream Pop, as a pioneer of synthesizer music in the 1970’s. He began as a member of Roxy Music in the early 1970’s, and went on to experiment with the synthesizer as a solo artist. Eno went on to become one of the most important producers in the British music business, with production credits on albums for U2 and Coldplay. For my part, I’ve never latched onto his music, but the following act have made a real impact on me.
One of the first bands that got tagged with this classification was the sublime Scottish band from the 1980’s, Cocteau Twins. Fronted by singer Elizabeth Fraser, she sings in a haunting style with surreal and often unintelligible lyrics. Robin Guthrie on the guitar builds a jangly soundscape that was typical of certain bands at the time, such as The Sundays. Their long album-packed career was highlighted by ‘Heaven Or Las Vegas’ album released in 1990 on the 4AD label. It was their greatest commercial success reaching number seven in the album charts. Sales-wise, Cocteau Twins were never going to be mainstream, but have managed to generate an appreciative fan-base that recognise their importance.
I’ve had a long-term love affair with Mazzy Star, ever since I heard the ‘Tell Me Now’ b-side track on U2’s ‘Hold me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me‘ single for the Batman Forever film.
Hope Sandoval and Dave Roback have worked together over the years to bring us four Mazzy Star albums that open a door to a dusty, psychedelic, Californian dream-world, filled with the slow blues and haunted by the ghost of The Doors. The band took on a sizeable hiatus as Sandoval worked with other artists including Devendra Banhart, The Chemical Brothers, and notably, My Bloody Valentine’s Colm Ó Cíosóig forming The Warm Inventions. I suspect that the music of The Warm Inventions probably out-dream pops even Mazzy Star, but to me, the two bands are part of the same rich tapestry.
School Of Seven Bells
Founding members, Alejandra Deheza and Benjamin Curtis met as support acts during the 2007 Intepol tour. The New York band provide a thoughtful tapestry of guitars and synthesizers, with Deheza’s vocals reminiscent of Elizabeth Fraser’s in tone. I was more than impressed with their first album, ‘Alpinisms’, and while the following volume, ‘Disconnect From Desire’ didn’t offer much new, the third album, ‘Ghostory’ nailed their presence as a great dream pop band. SVIIB sound impressive through recordings, but it’s a sound that also works well live. The euphoric build-ups, moments of calm catharsis, and haunting lyrical stories provide a great soundtrack for the day dreamer.
Ummagma are a Canadian-Ukranian duo with releases numbering two albums and an EP. Haunted lullabies are accompanied by epic soundscapes. Shauna McClarnon and Alexander Kretov take us on a shoegazing journey packed with guitar-driven streams of sound.
Their two albums are currently available for download: link
‘Antigravity’ is certainly a great place to start.
I first saw Sigur Rós in 1999 whilst living in Edinburgh. They were playing at an oval venue during the Edinburgh festival that year, and me and my Australian hostel buddy, Carly Hargreaves, had an awesome view of the band from the balcony above. The lead singer, Jón Þór Birgisson, sported an impressive electronic violin which was put to excellent work filling the round concert space with epic ethereal traces. The soundscape was so rich, it was easy to imagine how kinaesthesia might manifest. While they were touring this second album, I could not have imagined how successful this Icelandic band were to become. Now they are seven albums strong, they are possibly the most prolific current dream pop act on the scene.
Strictly speaking, US producer Jeff Montalvo’s act, Seven Lions is probably more accurately described as trance or progressive house. As far as I’m concerned, this is just a case of pigeon holes tripping us up. Montalvo’s tracks feature the same elements found in dream pop music, so he deserves a mention in this post! The dream-like euphoria invoked in his tracks create an atmosphere that truly takes the listener to a place of contemplation. Seven Lions is one of the few artists whose tracks consistently sends shivers down my spine. A true testament to the power of music.