Ever heard a song, whether it be on the radio or one of your frequent favorites, that stuck out to you as totally unique? You might think it’s a great song, and you want to hear more like it, but you don’t know where to even start.
Many have found themselves stuck in this situation. Behold; the power of obscure subgenres. Yes, applying specific labels to music may seem unnecessary, but it can prove to actually be useful when trying to find music similar to that one great band you love, or even the music that came before and influenced them.
Today, we’re discussing ‘dream pop’, a genre with a name that’s enough to drive you away at the very sight of it. I know, anything with the word “Dream” in it sounds boring as all hell, and “Pop” is one that sends shivers up the spines of many of us as well.
However, if you can get past the name, I suspect you’ll fall in love with the brilliant and gorgeous music that this genre has to offer. In fact, you might just find some of the music you already know and love falls right under the umbrella of dream pop.
What Is It?
Dream pop is a difficult genre to define for a couple of reasons. First, though incredibly identifiable, the signature dream pop sound is far beyond what words can describe.
Second, that very sound has undergone much change and development over the 40-odd years it’s been around. At the core, dream pop is a subgenre of Alternative Rock with a large focus on creating sonic textures alongside a light, airy atmosphere.
Dream pop takes that concept, and adds pop appeal with catchy, ear-pleasing melodies. The product of these two concepts is music that would be a fitting soundtrack to getting lost in a pleasant dream.
Diving into more specific traits of dream pop, it’s typical to hear reverb-heavy songs with very layered instrumental tracks. This creates a “Wall of Sound” effect, obviously inspired by Phil Spector’s famous production technique.
Very light, breathy vocals (often from a female or feminine male vocalist), are also a staple of the genre. Dream pop, though sometime bleak and depressing, is very pretty and pleasant at its core.
If you like this sound, but want something with more aggression and punch, the distortion-heavy cousin genre, Shoegaze, is probably more up your alley. Terms like “colourful”, “bittersweet”, and “ethereal” are great descriptors of most of the genre’s music, and often used by dream pop fanatics. Below, is what many fans, including myself, consider to be a quintessential dream pop song.
What’s The Origin?
Let’s start by digging way back to the year 1970. All Things Must Pass by the late, great George Harrison was released. This was a brilliant, critically-acclaimed album, but also one of the first mainstream rock albums to feature the aforementioned “Wall of Sound” production technique.
This created a grand, overwhelming sound, and was one of the main reasons Harrison’s debut was so revolutionary at the time. Though All Things Must Pass can’t really be considered dream pop, it inspired what would be the foundation of the entire genre when it really began about a decade and a half later.
The birthplace of dream pop was the UK, mid-1980s. This Mortal Coil and Cocteau Twins were the front runners of the scene at this time, both dominating the UK indie charts.
1984 was an eventful year to say the least, as This Mortal Coil released their debut LP It’ll End In Tears only a month before Cocteau Twins’ critically-acclaimed breakthrough record, Treasure. These records became iconic, as the very first true dream pop records to hit the mainstream.
From there, other bands at the time began to shake off the influence of 1980s post-punk and start to mold what would become the signature bright, sweet, dream pop sound.
Come the 1990s, the genre of dream pop had diversified quite a bit, with a combination of popular bands like The Smashing Pumpkins fusing dream pop with grunge, and the immersion of new bands revolutionizing the sound altogether.
Among the latter was Slowdive, a band who in 1993 released an unmatched dream pop masterpiece. This pillar of excellence was of course, Souvlaki. Its perfected mixture of gorgeous layering and ear-pleasing pop melodies surpassed the quality of any other album of that time.
While, strangely enough, the critical reception of the album at the time of release was largely negative, the album has been praised by fans for decades now. In fact, Souvlaki sits as the highest ranked dream pop album, and #98 best album of all time on the public music review website, Rateyourmusic.
Needless to say, Slowdive’s Souvlaki was a game changing album, and essential listening for anyone interested in great music.
Is It Still Around?
Though it might not be as popular as it once was, many of the best, new, alternative artists such as Silversun Pickups, Alvvays, Grimes, Beach House, The Antlers and M83 are keeping the genre very much alive through their music. Lesser known bands such as Wild Nothing, Youth Lagoon, and Turnover have also released very notable dream pop-influenced albums in the last few years.
Liam’s Top Picks:
Here’s a few more essential listens from the dream pop genre.