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Dream Pop: From Cocteau Twins To Beach House

The combination of thick, spacey, unreachable vocals with heavily distorted guitars can make you feel as if you’ve been transported to some musical heaven.

This is the realm of the dreamy, distant and emotional varieties of pop music.

Dream Pop has been something of an under-appreciated genre for a majority of its existence. Distant, extremely emotional and somewhat spacey, it sounds more like a needy girlfriend than something you’d want to spend time listening to.

But this is an area of music that deserves your consideration. Some music catches you right away, but these tunes tend to grow slowly into something unexpected.

I want to begin before the beginning, with a glorious little band called Cocteau Twins.

Existing from 1979 to 1997, this band is one of the best and earliest examples of the genre as it grew into something identifiable.

The band, comprised of Elizabeth Fraser, Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde, grew into its signature rhythmic, atmospheric style with the exit of original bass player, Will Heggie.

“Blind Dumb Deaf,” off the first album with the original bass player still intact, almost seems to hint at what was to come. In this early recording Guthrie’s guitar is ragged and piercing as Fraser floats her voice in the space surrounding.

Song: Blind Dumb Deaf

After the bass player’s exit, Fraser and Guthrie transformed their sound into what is now regularly duplicated and recognized.

With songs like “Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops” and the wonderfully titled “Sugar Hiccup,” the Cocteau Twins existed in a world all their own. In fact, when I first heard “Sugar Hiccup” I couldn’t understand a word she was saying, but I felt strangely moved by the song anyway.

Song: Sugar Hiccup

Song: Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops

Song: Iceblink Luck

This is dream pop at its best: distilling emotional experiences in the rawest form.

In early incarnations, dream pop was signified by the tumbling, layered guitar sound that, at times, seemed to exist independent of the singer and whatever he might have been doing.

The Chameleons, or Chameleons UK, used their guitars as if they were narrating a moving work of art.

“Swamp Thing” is a beautiful showcase of music, piled on top of itself. If you like to play things on your guitar, give this a whirl. It took me a while to really appreciate this song, and now I can’t get enough of it. The finale is the musical equivalent of Greek-myth catharsis.

Song: Swamp Thing

A few bands have managed to cross the lines of popular culture, giving us a handful of shining examples of underground music finding a larger audience.

Hope Sandoval, lead singer for Mazzy Star, helped create one of the most well known songs ever created, “Fade Into You.” Mix her voice with romantic music, mix it with afternoon traffic, and the rest will take care of itself.

Star is a ‘90s girl singer’ flavor of atmospheric pop. I can almost hear The Sundays on her stereo in her room.

“Fade Into You” is still as beautiful and current as the day it was recorded. And how’s this for dreamy – Sandoval prefers to perform in near darkness.

Song: Fade Into You

The rambling guitars of early dream pop began to give way to new influences as early as 1988, with the release of the stunning “Under the Milky Way” by The Church.

The most famous piece by The Church, this song layers distant, monotone vocals over incredibly sweet music for an almost unearthly effect.

Sadly, many of us may have missed out on The Church in their heyday. However we may have something just as amazing taking place in the East, right at this very second.

Song: Under the Milky Way

Beach House is doing something beautiful with guitars, keyboards and organs, not to mention the insanely intriguing voice of Victoria Legrand.

I come away strangely moved after listening to their sounds, and always find myself going back for more.

And while the music seems current, it has those simple, eternal qualities that all songs of this kind seem to share. I’m not sure what it is, but I know I need more.

Song: Zebra

Song: Walk In The Park

Song: Used To Be

 

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