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As western music has continued to fragment into a million different styles, it’s unsurprising that there are some genres that are designed to help the listener unwind.
In the 21st century we’ve seen chillwave, future garage, trip hop and retro electro develop, genres which would have been unthinkable only a few decades ago (yes, older readers, there really is a genre called Chillwave now).
Since emerging out of gothic and psychedelic style in the 1980s, dream pop artists have attempted to kill two birds with one stone. On one hand, their melodies and structures are often fairly straight forward. On the other, its influence has left the mainstream awash with more creative production.
Here are five late-2000s artists that deserve plaudits for their invention.
Essential album: ‘Seventh Tree’ (2008)
“Join our group and you will find // Harmony and peace of mind // Make you better // We’re here to welcome you.”
Do you remember the song ‘Ooh La La’? Okay, that’s a bit vague – do you remember the song ‘Ooh La La’ that was played on every advert from here to Timbuktu in the mid-2000s? Now you’re with me.
A common misconception about Goldfrapp is that the track was their only hit, but the duo have actually built a strong cult following through making less boisterous pop music since the turn of the century. Initially downtempo and heavily driven by trip hop grooves, the duo eventually moved to a more dreamy, folk-inspired sound.
People also mistakenly believe that Alison Goldfrapp is, well, Goldfrapp. However, keyboardist Will Gregory has been just as key in driving their success. The combination of his subtle synth washes and her wistful yet purposeful vocals made albums like ‘Seventh Tree’ instant classics.
Essential album: ‘xx’ (2009)
“Night time sympathise // I’ve been working on white lies // So I’ll tell the truth // I’ll give it up to you.”
The xx’s debut was absurdly catchy for an album that had so little happening on it. Considering it was entirely produced in a small office and featured no frills or complex arrangement, it was an incredibly captivating record.
Much of the band’s appeal lay in their use of space. Like all the best dream pop, guitar and keyboard parts were treated with the greatest of care to ensure that they created the desired effect. Don’t let the minimalism fool you, though, because these guys had more crafty melodies than most brazen pop records.
The xx are definitely a mood music suggestion – the main criticism they’ve received over their career is that they’re dull and miserable – but if you’re scrolling a list looking for dream pop recommendations then the chances are you’ll want at least a melancholic suggestion or two.
Essential album: ‘Saturdays = Youth’ (2008)
“So we can drown our towns with voices // So possible to like it as one // And soon they’ll be flying // Say of course, say you’re lovely.”
Dynamic, intelligent and varied in their approach, M83 are easily one of the best dream pop acts in the world and, at the very least, the best French band since Daft Punk. By combining 80s inspired synth music with 90s shoegaze, M83 set off a trend that would sweep the mainstream (if you pardon the excessive use of numbers).
On their late 2000s albums they reached their peak, mastering both their pop and ambient elements. The focal point were the soft vocals which were mixed to perfection, but the shimmering guitars and subtle synthesisers that backed them were what evoked the overwhelming sense of warmth and comfort.
M83 have probably tried every style going in their long career; it’s patently obvious that dream pop suits them best. Pioneers in both their own country and further afield, they’re an essential band to get into if you want to dip into electronic-inspired dream pop as well.
Essential album: ‘Illuminate’ (2008)
“So cover up for the rain // You see in way too much safety // Cause I don’t stand a chance // Any longer than you do my friend.”
In the broadest terms, Emo-inspired Arizona band, Lydia, is probably the closest thing to a generic alt-rock group band on this list. Their vocals are a tad whiny, most of their tracks tend to build up to a big explosive chorus, and their structures are primarily verse-chorus-verse with little deviation.
Nevertheless, that breakdown misses a fundamental reason for their popularity. Sonically, the emotive vocals, bubbling keys and reverb-laden guitars make for a wall of sound that is far more inviting than imposing.
On 2008 release, ‘Illuminate’, the band worked to the same aforementioned formula on almost every track, and it was their most stunning work, demonstrating that sometimes the best dream pop isn’t the most adventurous but the most coherent.
Essential album: ‘Précis’ (2006)
“With haunting kisses & passing the days honeychild // Signed & sealed & in this sound we hear the memory dying // Wondering if we paid attention // Would we have seen our proper ascension day?”
There are several excellent dream pop singer-songwriters out there – Benoît Pioulard just happens to be the best of them. While some bands use thick guitars or synth washes to convey a dreamy ambiance, Pioulard manages it with little more than his voice and some folky guitar lines.
His late-2000 albums were his sharpest material because the songwriting was up to par, too. There was something otherworldly about the way tracks drifted by calmly and yet still left such an imprint. This was enhanced by subtle production techniques that made it feel as if Pioulard was recording somewhere in the next room.
Some people complain that dream pop is simply too light and too placid to enjoy as a personal listening experience. Pioulard’s tracks work so well because they’re full of detail and depth – the hypnotic sense of relaxation is almost a bonus.
Dream pop is unique in its ability to transport the listener to another place with hooks and melodies that are straight forward and poppy. The artists on this list do this in their own ways – minimalist indie rock, emotional rock and cerebral folk to name a few – but the aesthetic is similar with each.
Who else would you suggest checking out? Please do comment below.