Mention “dream pop”, and the first thing that comes to mind is a collision of contrasts; sweet meets spunky, ethereal meets existential. As a sub-genre of alternative rock, dream pop is all about immersion – think lazy melodies and breathy vocals, wrapped in a cotton candy haze. The more you listen, the more the lyrics seem to meld into each other, transforming into a seamless blur until you can no longer tell when the song ends and another begins. In short, it’s perfect for times when all you feel like doing is letting your mind go blank, as you allow the music to wash over you.
Dream pop finds its roots in the 1960s, when the psychedelic era saw many musical icons experimenting with new techniques like repetition and texture. It’s said that the Beach Boys’ “All I Wanna Do” is an early example of dream pop: according to a fan, D. Patek, on YouTube, “the haunting high melody in the background is what captivates me every time I listen to this song. Brian (Wilson)’s otherworldly melodies and harmonies make it seem as if he’s in touch with some other celestial reality.”
What is known as dream pop in America is also referred to as “shoegazing” in Britain; the press named this genre as such because band members often stared at the stage as they performed, reading lyrics taped to the floor.
Over the years, dream pop’s popularity has waxed and waned, and is even said to have been the precursor of chillwave, a microgenre that appeared in the late 2000s. In 2014, the film Beautiful Noise documents the influence of three bands – Cocteau Twins, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and My Bloody Valentine – known for paving the way in spreading the gospel of dream pop.
In the present day, dream pop continues to live on thanks to the success of artists like Mew and CHVRCHES, who have captured the hearts of millennials with their kaleidoscopic, mystical brand of music. Sound of Life suggest these dream pop bands to add to your playlist.
Vocalist/keyboardist Victoria Legrand and guitarist/keyboardist/backup vocalist Alex Scally from Baltimore, Maryland share an almost-intuitive, spiritual connection. Their most notable classic, Teen Dream, is the band’s third studio album from 2010. Recorded in a converted church in upstate New York, Teen Dream delivers aptly dreamy songs from the likes of “Silver Soul” and “Walk in the Park”.
Legrand says that most her time is spent making music, but she never feels alone. She describes the process as similar to creating a character – after some time, the music takes on a life of its own.
This year, Beach House announced the arrival of their eighth album, Once Twice Melody, the first full-length release since their previous album, 7, in 2018. Presented in four chapters with four songs each, 2021 saw the release of the first two chapters, with the last two expected sometime in February.
CIGARETTES AFTER SEX
“Sensual, charming and straight-up erotic” is how Vogue describes Cigarettes After Sex’s music – as frontman Greg Gonzales admits, it is bedroom music after all, written from a tender, post-coital perspective (hence the band’s name) and beautifully sung in Gonzales’ androgynous voice. Citing French singer Françoise Hardy as one of his biggest influences, Gonzales says that if you’re close to someone, the way you talk changes. Unconsciously, your voice becomes softer and more sensual, which is what Cigarettes After Sex is all about.
Founded in 2008, the band has only released two albums, the most recent being Cry in 2019. In an almost obsessive-compulsive manner, their love for black and white has remained a constant over the years, as evidenced by the covers of their albums and singles, as well as their social media accounts.
Finally, Gonzales’ love for Françoise Hardy was reciprocated in 2017 – writing in her column for media company Talkhouse, Hardy describes Cigarettes For Sex’s “K.” and “Apocalypse” (both from their eponymous album) as a “real thunderbolt”. “It was exactly the music I prefer, and which I have been looking for all my life. What all of Cigarettes After Sex’s songs suggest to me has more to do with love, sensuality, tenderness, beauty, and melancholy than with the opposites of those things,” she concludes.
The story of how Still Corners members Greg Hughes and Tessa Murray met is a perfect example of serendipity: on the way to choir practice, Murray met Hughes, who had moved to London for a now-defunct relationship, by chance on a train platform in London, and ended up forming a band after realising they shared something in common: the love for music. Still Corners’ name is derived from New Hampshire, a volume of poems by Robert Frost, after about sixty unsuccessful tries to find a name that matched their music.
Fifteen years and five albums later, Hughes and Murray still marvel at how Still Corners has managed to go against the odds. Racking up 61 million views on YouTube, “The Trip” (2013) is the band’s most famous song, having been featured in TV series like Gossip Girl and You’re the Worst.
In an interview with magazine American Songwriter, Murray says that her songwriting style is more ethereal, while Hughes is more methodical: “Greg will play music in the background, and ideas will come naturally through that process. With Greg, I think he has more of a classic work ethic. Obviously, though, sometimes it doesn’t come naturally to me. So then we sit down together and work up different ideas and see what sticks. I find that’s more difficult than the organic stuff but in the final output, you can’t tell the difference. We find our way to what the song wants to say in the end.”
The Last Exit (2019) is an album about the myth and folklore of the open road, filled with long trips that blur the line between what’s there and not there, as you experience the landscape of a never-ending drive filled with Still Corners’ signature soulful sound.
DRUG STORE ROMEOS
In a college in Farnborough, England, childhood friends Jonny Gilbery and Charlie Henderson put up an notice on the school’s notice board, looking for a bassist for their new band. When Sarah Downie answered the ad, the boys realised that she was much better suited as a vocalist, and Drug Store Romeos was born.
In its early days, Drug Store Romeo was heavily influenced by ‘80s hardcore bands like Black Flag and Minor Threat. However, somewhere down the line, their musical direction took a major turn as they began to fall in love with the psychedelic nature of dream pop. The music was markedly Dadaist, applying a cut-and-paste method full of unconventional aesthetics that combined the nonsensical with Downie’s soporific vocal style.
Released in 2020, The world within our bedrooms became the dream pop anthem of the pandemic when London faced its third lockdown. Built on a cheap Casio keyboard bought off eBay, the band’s album is reminiscent of indietronica band Broadcast and Beach House from their Devotion days. Speaking to DIY Magazine, Downie hopes that through The world within our bedrooms, people can close their eyes and be taken on an insular journey in their bedroom, ultimately finding a world to escape in.
Before Nothing, frontman Domenic “Nicky” Palermo was a member of hardcore punk band Horror Show, but his musical career was cut short when he stabbed a man during a fight and subsequently spent two years in jail for attempted murder. After his release. Palermo formed Nothing as a way to heal his soul with music.
In 2012, Nothing released their EP Downward Years to Come, which borrows a dreamlike, ethereal tone akin to those of its predecessors like the Cocteau Twins, Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine. The EP was well-received among dream pop fans, cementing Nothing’s position as a strong contender in the genre.
Nothing’s music is echoes the melancholy of Palermo’s life – in 2015, he was robbed after a performance in Oakland, which left him with a fractured skull and eye socket. While making their third album, Dance on the Blacktop, he was diagnosed with the possibility of a degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Palermo tells British magazine Kerrang! about how being in a band and making music has helped him: “It gives me a sense of purpose, which I think is really important. I’ve never had anything as long as this in my life that I care for and oversee. I need to stay that busy because the second that I’m not doing this stuff, my head takes me to places that no person’s head should be in. And that place is progressively getting worse, as well. So it helps. It does help. But it’s really just helping me keep myself away from myself.”
Your Dream Pop playlist, curated by SOL.
Cover Credit: Ebru Yildiz
Writer | Michelle Tan
Lover of all things bizarre, Michelle has a soft spot for dinosaurs, animal videos and a strong G&T. Her lifelong dream is to become an urban hermit.