For a campus that (maybe?) prides itself on its love of all things indie, I have found that Northwestern students are lacking the appropriate appreciation for one of my favorite genres out there: dream pop, or its distortion-driven relative: "shoegaze."
Sure, we all enjoy Grouplove’s indie hit "Tongue Tied," but that song has at most traces of these genres. With Everything Else Matters by Pinkshinyultrablast, I’m hoping to introduce the NBN readership to an aesthetic that refuses to be absorbed by the all-encompassing indie vibe. Dream pop relishes in distance, both from reality and from the singer. It’s normal to not be able to parse out a word of articulated lyric in these albums, which is not meant to be a criticism, but a staple of the genre. Whereas indie is so concrete, dream pop is only grounded by its, well, dreaminess.
And that’s exactly how this wonderful album opens. With a vibrating hum and a cascade of harmonious, angelic voices, there is a real sense of the space between lucidity and sleep. Hums, beautiful synth hums layer and layer to create the feelings of pillows, right before the bassline begins. Is this a dream or a trance? This is the kind of atmosphere that is so familiar in its diluted form throughout other indie music, but stays so potent on this opener.
But don’t get the impression that this album is all bubbly with no other substance. While Lyubov, the singer, may call you from a distance, the guitars and the drums pound, forcing an abrupt awakening into another phase of music and dream. On "Holy Forest," the music alternates between heavy, almost wailing guitars, and smooth, evenly plucked lines. It's never jarring, because each just feels like another texture of a loving sleep.
In fact, the first time I passively listened to this album, I didn’t notice the endings of songs, and it all felt like one lengthy, continuous sequence. While some may balk at this, I don’t think there’s any reason to fear. Songs are different, but retain a sonic resemblance throughout, always part of the same tapestry and never jarring a listener awake (so to speak) between tracks.
Despite the common admiration for shoegaze pioneers My Bloody Valentine’s seminal Loveless, an oft-heard complaint is "it all sounds like vacuums." A similar complaint could be levied at Pinkshinyultrablast. No, not that it sounds like vacuums, but that it picks its instrumentation and its textures, and never deviates. This is simply one of the pitfalls – or virtues, if you're like me – of this genre. What separates tedious repetition from Everything Else Matters is the confidence these performers have in their dreamscape. They know that these songs are different enough to be treated as unique despite broadly sharing sounds. As such, each song is a different stroke in a larger painting, whereupon complete consideration rewards you with the same relaxed lucidity of awakening after a good night’s dream.For a student body that sometimes has worries about school, career and social life, there may be no better diagnosis than to slip on this album after a long night of studying. Let those daytime worries slip off, and pass into dreams with Pinkshinyultrablast's excellent night-time ride.