Dreampop godfather flutters out of hibernation for unexpected return
When did dreampop become the new term to drop, then? Though it was originally coined way back in the 80s by A.R. Kane’s Alex Ayuli to describe his band’s sound, it didn’t really catch on for a fair while. Probably not until 2009 in fact, when Beach House caught wider attention with ‘Teen Dream’. They filtered familiarly-textured 90s shoegaze structures through an opiated synth-led lushness to render them warm and new.
But where did it all start? Belfast-born, LA-based Joe Cassidy, aka Butterfly Child, would point you to his early EPs on A.R. Kane’s H.ark! Label, his 1993 Rough Trade debut album ‘Onomatopoeia’ and 1995’s ‘The Honeymoon Suite’. True progenitors from a man ahead of his time and now making a return to a scene that’s ascended without his presence. Recent interviews have failed to elicit much in the way of a satisfactory explanation from Cassidy as to the reason behind his 17-year hiatus or indeed for this return, so we’ll have to make of that what we will.
It’s fair to say though with that sort of pedigree, many will be waiting to hear this new work and wondering if it can match its predecessors’ high standards. So can it? Lead single ‘Lost In These Machines’ certainly does. It’s a soaring, majestic beauty with a soulfulness one-time labelmates Spacemen 3 would be proud of. But it’s a long way down the running order, and much of what precedes it sounds like it was made with little recognition of so much of the guitar-led, indie-influenced, faintly leftfield pop that’s been made since Cassidy’s heyday. Had it appeared sooner in the album, it might have put some of the more prosaic sequences of nostalgic sounds into perspective, melodically-driven and lyrically-adept though they may be.
In the main, guitars and Cassidy’s plaintive vocals are well to the fore. There are summery vistas and pastoral, melancholy tones that, surprisingly, owe more to the High Llamas (particularly where keyboard notes slide introspectively downwards on ‘Still Learning To Crawl’) than the likes of My Bloody Valentine. But here and there, layers of shimmering guitar waves build to form soft walls of dense beauty that bring Slowdive to mind.
Aside from ‘Lost In These Machines’, and the poignantly downtempo closer ‘Beauty #2’ with its grandiose Sigur Ros-ness, there isn’t much that even sounds like the genre Cassidy helped to seed. And although the complex cascading guitars that introduce ‘Playfair Steps’ recall Beach House’s ‘Zebra’, it soons descends into – shudder – Coldplay territory. So not exactly an au courant sound, but that may also prove its strength if it catches the ears of those who appreciate a straightforward focus on the alt-pop basics.