We recently published our Best of 2015 electronica feature, and now we move on to explore what we feel are the best dreampop releases from this outgoing year. There were so many releases this year and seemingly so many more small indie labels appearing on the scene than I ever recall previously. Of course, it’s nice to leave a mark through awesome music regardless of how it comes packaged and that is exactly what so many have done. Do peruse the following artworks one by one and listen – hopefully to your pleasure, just as it has been ours.
1. Ummagma – Frequency
It’s been a few years since Ummagma released their two debut LPs, followed by remix-based albums (Lama and Kiev Remixes) that took their music deeper into electronica. While the ‘New Born’ LP for their side project Sounds of Sputnik tided us over in 2014, we have been patiently waiting for this one. Released this month, ‘Frequency’ delivers everything promised. ‘Lama’ and ‘Orion’ are intergalactic. ‘Galacticon’, ‘Ocean Girl’ and Winter Tale’ are brilliantly reminiscent of Vangelis, Francoise Hardy and Cocteau Twins respectively. Not surprising that the Cocteau king himself has taken the band under his wing on this EP. Robin Guthrie’s remix impresses greatly (my next fave remix after School of Seven Bells). Just as striking are the remixes by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s Malcolm Holmes and Wales’ Lights That Change. Released via Moon Sounds Records (USA) and Raphalite Records (UK), find ‘Frequency’ here.
2. Tamaryn – Cranekiss
One of the absolute mainstays of the dreampop scene, Tamaryn never fails to impress and this release lives up to her reputation for delivering astounding output. This new LP is a big step for the project, seeing Tamaryn (she is he only artist remaining in the band from previous releases) move away from the shoegaze whirlwinds of ‘Tender New Signs’ and ‘The Waves’ to create dreampop with icing on it. We also find her experimenting with new instrumentation, involving synths, drum triggers, and sampling and somewhat so regarding new style and form. With rather glossy production, ‘Cranekiss’ was released through the Mexican Summer label, which is also home to No Joy – one of our long-time fave dreampop/shoegaze acts, the label scores another great one in 2015. Get ‘Cranekiss’ here.
3. Gwenno – Y Dydd Olaf
There hasn’t been a stand out Welsh language record since the glory days of the 1990s when the likes of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci recorded for Ankst Records. Gwenno has blown that out of the water with an album that would sit just as well on a list of the best psychedelic and dreampop records. Tracks like ‘Patriarchaeth’ mark her signature synthpop sound though, and sits sonically somewhere between Ladytron and Broadcast. Lovely stuff, even though we haven’t a clue what she is talking about. Find ‘Y Dydd Olaf’ here.
4. Death and Vanilla – To Where The Wild Things Are
This first full offering from the Swedish cult band serves up a gorgeous heady mix of psychedelic pop and exotica tinged electronic excursions. The opener ‘Necessary Distortions’ builds to an ominous swelling krautrock jam that wouldn’t sit out of place on the third Portishead album. ‘California Owls’ is one of the sweetest dreamiest songs heard all year. And side two sounds like what sandpit-period Brian Wilson might have produced, had he been as inspired by the Silver Apples as he was by ‘Revolver’. Find ‘To Where The Wild Things Are’ here.
5. Gliss – Pale Reflections
If anybody is keeping scores here, I’d say that Danish/American duo Gliss is doing pretty well in lasting as long as they have to release this fifth LP. Released via their own label Kraftwööd, ‘Pale Reflections’ is a potent mix of dreampop and twee with elements comparable to Beach House and The Raveonettes. Together a decade now, Victoria Cecilia and Martin Klingman’s creativity and musings culimate in ‘Pale Reflections’, which we see as one of their best release to date. While every track packs a punch and some are even on the rockier side (they know their audience well), they cleverly manage to channel angst-fueled confusion into dream territory in a way that is not pretentious at all. Get ‘Pale Reflections’ here or here on CD.
6. Echo Lake – Era
When Echo Lake released their ‘Young Silence’ EP in 2010, they brought a sweet slice of reverb-doused bliss to the dreampop public, but failed to deliver a second serving with their 2012 EP ‘Wild Peace’. Round three came with quite a resounding starting bell, as the band once again returns to territory we can say we are happy with. ‘Era’ is both remarkably impressive and calculated. Like the Tamaryn’s ‘Cranekiss’, this release also sees Echo Lake shifting their focus away from shoegaze into something more substantial and capable of delivering enduring pleasure. The single ‘Waves’ is proof of that, while the most powerful indication of their maturity is the 8-minute track ‘Dröm’. But the Perfect in length, the band have a knack for cutting songs off just before they seem strained. Get the ‘Era’ EP here.
7. A Sunny Day in Glasgow – Planning Weed Like It’s Acid; Life Is Loss
While it may seem pretty ambitious of Philadelphia outfit A Sunny Day in Glasgow to release a “double EP” in follow-up to last year’s full-length ‘Sea When Absent’, this seems more like a ploy to mask the fact that this is simply the shortest album the band has issued yet, with just nine songs and a run time of just over 30 minutes. The band’s official release says that this is “a bunch of songs written, recorded and mixed at light-speed (for this band)”. While I do enjoy this release, it sits further down on this year’s list than where I would have ranked ‘Sea When Absent’ (had I actually got around to ranking anything in 2014). Over these past 2 releases, this project has grown to be a six-person band, rather than simply revolving around founder Ben Daniels). As such, the music is more ‘dynamic’ and less calculated, inviting people to join them on a very interesting trip. A Sunny Day in Glasgow is eternally fun, quirky and full of twists and turn – so we twist along with them here too. Get ‘Planning Weed Like It’s Acid; Life Is Loss’ here.
8. Lights That Change – Voices/Starlight/Song To The Siren
While we usually make a distinction between singles and EPs and LPs in our ‘Best of’ lists, this year we don’t plan on running a separate singles feature. And while we really won’t be exploring other singles here, we shall do so with respect to one artist, who has had 3 astounding singles come out this year. Each touches out a different element within the corners of the human soul. ‘Voices’ is dark yet mystifying, entrancing yet with some deep, seemingly ancient wisdom embedded within. ‘Starlight’ rests on the flip side, where optimism and dreamy coexist with depth of sound. ‘Song to the Siren’, released as a free download, is the most beautiful version of this song in the 34 years that have passed since This Mortal Coil version. All 3 singles were released by UK label Raphalite Records, lending much promise of what’s to come with their 2016 LP ‘Byzantium’. Find them all here.
9. Malka – The Constant State
The only bilingual Spanish-English project in this year’s collection of top dreampop, Malka brings both sides of the language divide to the table nicely, in good taste and with good trips in hand for the listener. This dreampop verges on the psychedelic, as well as post-rock with stoner shoegazey elements in there too. All tracks are in English here except two that are indeed exceptional: ‘Mientras se Respira’ and ‘Corazon Sin Sangre’. With all members now based in NY City, Darko Saric from famed Peruvian band Indigo brings the Spanish with ease. The fact that three vocalists take turns doing what they do so well makes this album particularly dynamic. Although it has more progressive and alternative rock features, ‘Wolves and Sheep’ remains my fave track from this album, with ‘Mientras Se Respira’ in close second. I can’t understand a word and don’t need to – I have been able to soak it up just fine. Get ‘The Constant State’ here.
10. SPC ECO – Dark Matter
SPC ECO has got to be one of the most prolific bands on the dreampop scene. Picking up where Curve left off, mostly due to the fact that Dean Garcia is the male half in both of these projects, SPC ECO also involves Dean’s daughter Rose Berlin and their music has left its own unique imprint. ‘Dark Matter’ is aptly named, with the tracks from this new LP being significantly darker than anything they’ve released previously. While it’s nice enough, I couldn’t help but left ‘wanting’ for some of the uplifting vibes I gathered from their previous releases. Rose’s vocals carry many of the tracks here with steady confidence and Dean’s signature sound accompanying. Still, it’s a strong enough album to make this year’s Top 10 Dreampop releases. Released through U.S. shoegaze boutique label Saint Marie Records, you can get ‘Dark Matter’ here or here on vinyl.
Top honorable mention goes to The Morelings for their brilliant ‘No Sign’ EP and also Kimono Lights for their ‘Imprinting’ LP. We also wanted to recognize the 2015 releases by several other noteworthy artists here, including Shana Falana, ONBC, Winter, The Ropes, Jade TV, Beach House, Cemeteries, Tiny Fireflies, and The Arctic Flow.