Welcome back! I neglected to mention this, but for my American readers, I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving holiday! I relaxed so much that I didn’t draft a post for publishing last Monday. To make up for the delay, I’ve decided to write about two tracks in this post. I hope you enjoy it!
Some of my favorite music during my formative years was shoegaze and dream pop. The paramount example of dream pop is Cocteau Twins. To this day, I have yet to encounter any band that is as arresting, as breathtaking as they are. The sense of wonder, life, and love in their music informs my sensibilities as a music lover and as a person more than any other art, let alone artist. Perhaps because of their impact, I tend to enjoy more ethereal sounds and effects-laden instruments when seeking out new bands.
The hardest part about this is, frankly, no one does it as well as they do. Cocteau Twins is so utterly unlike any other band that it’s almost pointless to even try embodying their sound. This might be why I tend not to enjoy other dream pop groups that emulate them too closely. Instead, I respond better when artists attempt dreamlike imagery and sonics through alternate means. A good example I’ve encountered recently would be Broadcast, whose HaHa Sound album has gotten lots of play from me these past few weeks.
Another good example is Yukari, an artist based in South Korea. Her “Echo” release from 2012 captures life in a bottle, with tracks that express feelings through slowly building synths and samples, working together to create an emotional crescendo several times throughout the course of the album. “Echo” is technically just an EP (mini-album?), but the Bandcamp version of the release contains enough bonus tracks not included in the standard release elsewhere that I tend to lump them in with the core track list. Even the remixes are, at least to me, essential to the experience – the link above is of the remix to “8PM,” which takes the original song‘s lilting mood (and possibly the best example of the aforementioned emotional crescendo) and turns it into a breathy, midtempo groove. It’s such a different take on the core melody of the original that it feels like its own song. It’s a truly special experience!
Yukari now records under the Aseul alias, and her first release under that name, New Pop, is as great as Echo in different ways. She told Bandcamp in 2016 that she wants to expand her horizons as a producer, to express a wider palette of emotions than she felt possible as Yukari. She certainly succeeded in that way on New Pop. It covers more ground style-wise. Still, there’s something special about Echo that keeps me coming back to it just a little bit more often than New Pop. Give it a listen if you get a chance!
Echo is available on Bandcamp.
My love for Yukari’s aesthetic, production-style, and songwriting piqued my interest to find other like-minded artists from South Korea. After doing some searching, I came upon that Bandcamp article (which you can find again here) with comments from a variety of artists. That brought me to Neon Bunny, who included Blood Orange among her influences. Dev Hynes is perhaps my favorite producer in the pop world working today, and Blood Orange is my favorite project of his. It can be dreamlike in the way that Cocteau Twins or Yukari can, but it also hits on new wave and funk influences from the 1970s and 80s. I think of him as the modern-day Prince. If any artist claims him as an influence, I’d say I’m very inclined to check their stuff out.
In practice, Neon Bunny seems to draw more of the dreamy aspects of Blood Orange’s aesthetic, with nary a funk rhythm to be found on 2016’s Stay Gold. That’s not a negative, however – her album is still chock-full of groove, but it’s more of a standard pop vibe than something Prince would dream up. Check out “Room314” above, which is the standout track on an album full of keepers. It’s got a great, breathy hook, coupled with an indelible synth and guitar combo in the post-chorus.
Stay Gold is available on Bandcamp.