Sardinian duo serve up synthpop take on tried and tested ethereal blueprint
Dreampop remains a wonderfully problematic concept. In their attempts to emulate the mental state they were probably in when they decided to record the songs, it’s a genre that suggests bands whacked out on torpor-inducing chemicals running their wavering voices through a watery reverb effect matched by equally echoey musical backdrops with little substance.
Although they operate within that broad ballpark, Lilies On Mars are something of an exception, with the Hackney-based duo of Lisa Masia and Marina Cristofalo adding their quavering harmonics to a bedrock of slick vintage synthpop rather than drab shoegazing dullness. Yes, tracks like the detached and mournful ‘It Was Only Smoke’ carry an amorphous, dubby nothingness, but by fusing unexpected symphonic grandeur to wobbly ephemerality, it is pleasingly reminiscent of LA Vampires’ collaboration with Zola Jesus.
‘∆GO’ was conceived at Masia’s beach house in Sardinia in the wake of a 2014 tour to promote their previous album, ‘Dot To Dot’. It would be tempting to suggest that the coastal environment filled these songs with an organic, natural texture, but aside from the addition of occasional strings and live drumming, ‘∆GO’ is more or less entirely a product of machinery. Opening track ‘Stealing’ has a naked, shimmering synthpop brilliance, somehow encapsulating the enthralling essence of listening to electronic music for the first time, while still sounding utterly now.
Masia and Cristofalo cite the BBC Radiophonic Workshop as an influence on their sound, but it’s difficult to hear definitively in the buzzing synths and bouncy rhythms of tracks such as ‘Dancing Star’ and ‘It Might Be’. The more experimental sections of the album – cuts like ‘From The Earth To Above’ and ‘I’ve Got You’ – do undoubtedly have a wayward, primitive dimension, but citing the Workshop is, perhaps, an abstract reflection that the long tone echo created by the likes of Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire exists in all electronic music anyway, much like synthetic dark matter.
Similarly abstract are the lyrics, which carry the obliqueness of a poem that can only be fully understood by thoroughly knowing the motivations and emotions that the author was experiencing as the lines coalesced on the page… and no one’s got the energy for that these days. Without understanding or context, all that remains is an implied feeling; that the lyrics are delivered via the girls’ imperfect harmonising is another technique to deliver emotional content without once giving away their true feelings.
With a bit more studio polish and a bit less leftfield meandering, ‘∆GO’ could have reached the same lurid heights as Goldfrapp’s ‘Head First’, and as a consequence you’d have probably tired of it pretty quickly. Thanks to its imperfections and curious, mysterious angles it feels like something much more enduring, increasingly revealing itself and its intricacies with each successive listen.