Dream pop is a genre that lives and dies by iridescent tones and lush textures. Vocals are usually drenched with reverb and deluged by wispy instrumentation, then produced with an elegance that deters between a slumbered and wakened state. With dream pop, shoegaze elements occasionally appear, but infuses dreamier, ethereal melodies and pop-structured arrangements — lacking the edgy vibe that shoegaze possesses. After have listening to the genre for years, its music has become embedded in my identity. Nevertheless, it is an immersive experience worth delving into. Thus, here are the five essentials to dream pop according to Kyle Kohner:
For 28 years now, Julee Cruise has kept those who have been captivated by “Floating into the Night” buoyed over the threshold of what is real and what is surreal. Largely known for her work with David Lynch on “Twin Peaks,” Cruise bears a serene vocal talent. Her translucence embodies an earnest essence — delicate, drab, drafty and desolate. While “Floating into the Night” accentuates Cruise’s unspeakable vocal work, it equally illuminates a celestial atmosphere via composer Angelo Badalamenti. Badalamenti weaves together divine synthesized arrangements, anguished brass sections and fifties lounge riffs to create a palpable ambiance comparable to the heartrending moment Donna and James were struck by the news of the death of their dear friend Laura Palmer in the first episode of Twin Peaks. Yet, this album encompasses much more – feelings that seem devastatingly out of touch with what is considered reality. Near the initial stages of this work of art, the recognizable “Falling” tethers listeners to a rope dangling from an ethereal dream realm while “Into the Night” swaddles the listener with a cool sheet once that same rope is cut by an orchestral explosion at the album’s midpoint. “The Nightingale” tosses audiences back into zero gravity with a serene sense of security in spite of the sheathed doom and gloom that overwhelms the cracks and crevices of Cruise’s debut. It is undoubtedly difficult to keep this album from being synonymous with “Twin Peaks.” Nevertheless, this placid collection stands as a masterful work of art by itself, as its purifying effect and ghostly presence continues to haunt to this very day.
Before “Saturdays = Youth,” Anthony Gonzalez and the band M83 had already cemented themselves as uncanny alchemists of devastating soundscapes. They released quite possibly, the best shoegaze album of all time with “Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts” in 2003, then began to incorporate dreamier elements with “Before the Dawn Heals Us” in 2005. Yet, M83 pursued to reinvent their sound, and with the release of “Saturdays = Youth” three years later, they tapped into their inner teen angst and love for the ‘80s, completing a seamless transition into dream pop. “Saturdays = Youth” trailblazed a thematic shift for the band, a movement that translated into future releases. This monumental record inspires throbbing sentimentality of the past, entrancing pleasure in the present and stargazing apprehension of the future by cascading listeners with lavish arrangements of splintering fireworks: layered, sweeping synths, shimmering guitars and reverberating vocals — a perfect homage to ‘80s dream pop. The album’s sonic luster, impassioned crescendos and youthful aura magnetize with each passing track, ensuring to sweep listeners off their feet in complete wonder, allowing tracks like “Kim & Jessie,” “Graveyard Girl” and “We Own the Sky” to prescribe this fantastical essence. For all the grandiose ‘80s revivalism, “Saturdays = Youth” offers a radiating warmth of sunshine to rejuvenate us when aging gets old.
While many argue “Teen Dream” stands as Beach House’s best work, I point to their fourth album “Bloom” as their most brilliant. “Bloom’s” comparably darker undercurrents bestows upon the brighter “Teen Dream,” an arcane sibling, one that substantiates more poignancy and sensuality. While “Teen Dream’s” organic instrumentation presented a more grounded persona, “Bloom’s” augmentation of synthesizers and reverb cultivates an emotive potency — pinpointing Beach House at their most inventive stage of their career. “Bloom” takes the impenetrable groundwork laid by “Teen Dream” and fleshes it out by expanding the production, experimenting with different textures and searing in shadowy melodies to pull the listener into an aloof state. “Bloom’s” vaporous nature contributes merited brilliance. Its softness and lucidity lends an intangible ambition, literally blooming into a momentous culmination of euphony. “Bloom” may very well be the best dream pop project of this decade.
“Disintegration” transcends as The Cure’s most renowned work — it not only defined the band’s trajectory, but defined an entire decade of music. With “Disintegration,” The Cure reverted to their grounded Goth roots and the collapsing gloomy skies of a late October night. While the brooding aspects blatantly flare, this record manages to emit hope and ethereal daydreams. Steady percussion, dissonant chord progressions and capacious synth-scapes lend the album its pulse. From the sublimity of “Plainsong” to the encapsulated, ceaseless heartbreak expressed in “Pictures of You,” “Lovesong” and “Lullaby,” then onward and into the expansive abyss of the entire second half, this expression of eclectic emotions and arrangements pacify the most turbulent of hearts. This melancholic album clenches onto the burning despondency of their work from the early ‘80s and juxtaposes it with just enough optimism to make profound melodies, sedated trips and pop danceability. “Disintegration” melds the both sides of The Cure — bound together by glimmering constellations that define an autumnal night sky so grand that breathing becomes an afterthought. There is an indiscernible catharsis to be found within The Cure’s masterpiece — emotion denoted by both submissiveness and impending eternity.
Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins pioneered the unhinged romanticism of ‘80s dream pop with a voice that painted impressionist pieces with impervious passion. Cocteau Twins’ sixth album “Heaven or Las Vegas” is Valium for the soul, a sonic antidepressant concocted from tranquilizing soundscapes and Fraser’s hypnotic vocals. Few vocalists have reached Fraser’s talent and this album validates such truism. Tied together by an indecipherable yet charming Scottish flare, Fraser’s simmering voice melts over the title track, placates on “Wolf In the Beast,” then grasps for the heavens with an unmatched range in the final track “Frou – Frou Foxes In Midsummer Fire.” Cocteau Twins appear to reside in a utopian dimension where the world’s fate is contingent upon a single chord progression, a shimmering guitar line or even an ethereal note from Fraser’s voice. If this is the case, then the world rests assured through a transformative album brimming from an affectingly felt place. Inexpressible, limitless and lofty, if you open yourself up to “Heaven Or Las Vegas,” it will transport you into a meditative undertaking — one that stirs the subconscious like no other. “Heaven Or Las Vegas” is quintessential dream pop.