Thursday, March 11, 2010

My Loathe Affair with Ambient Dream-Pop

So far, I have not used this forum to talk about the music that I don’t like. The creation of Audio Zealot was inspired by my passionate enthusiasm for the music I love, and I would much rather write from a place of admiration. But frankly, it’s a rock and roll dry spell out there, and I am feeling under whelmed and uninspired by the majority of music that I have come across in recent months. As I await new album releases from trusted favorites, which may not come for a while– I have listened to countless new bands in search of music that excites me. What I have found is a musical climate that is oversaturated with spacey, ethereal dreamy pop music. While the genre is not new, it seems that the last few years have produced a steady increase in bands making music suitable for sleep-induced hypnotherapy.

It’s not that the music is bad or the bands are not talented, it’s just that it is an all-out assault on my rock and roll sensibilities. Why don’t these songs have choruses? What’s with all of the monk-style chanting? Why are the lyrics so boring and repetitive? Is this band trying to Clockwork Orange me? There has got to be subliminal brainwashing going on here!

My irrational aversion for this genre of music that is only exasperated by the fact that dream-pop is the darling of indie music right now. Dream-pop, electro-pop, shoegaze - whatever label people call it – is everywhere: in every hybrid car commercial, in hip boutique stores, at your local coffee shop. I have spent countless hours listening to highly acclaimed albums that fall under the dream-pop or electro-pop category, trying to adjust my ears to enjoy it, or at least trying to understand the hype. While advertisements and coffee shops are perfectly acceptable places for ambient music, I can’t understand why rock music publications are promoting the hell out of albums from this genre.

Remember when Brian Eno, Moby, and Bjork were quirky anomalies? It now seems like every other band out there is creating chaotic ambient sound and calling it music, and this music is wholeheartedly validated by many rock music critics. Because dream-pop has virtually no appeal to me, I want to make sense of why this trend has taken off. Why are so many bands making dream-pop, and why do people want to listen to it?

I think what bothers me most is the nagging notion that if music is an artistic reflection of social and cultural trends, what does this spacey, synthetic sound say about us right now? Generally speaking, what I hear in this musical trend is coldness, emotional detachment, and technologically produced sounds that feel wholly inorganic. Sonically, it feels dispassionate and soulless, and lyrically it reveals little insight, poeticism, or storytelling. If this genre were a map for youthful social or cultural trends, I would say that we exist in environment that puts little value on narrative means of expression, and that we are emotionally numb and disconnected.

I purposely did not single out any bands here for a couple of reasons. I don’t want to specifically direct any negativity because I do respect the vulnerability of an artist to share their creative passions with the masses. Also, it is really the genre of music that I don’t enjoy, and plenty of fans and critics indicate that any bands I would name here are, in fact, talented and worthy of accolades. Lastly, I’ve never been to a live show for my non-mentioned artists. Perhaps the cold and artificial feel may come from too much studio production, and it melts away when these bands perform live. I suspect, to some degree, that is the case.

Nonetheless, I don’t envision much staying power with artists who create the purest forms of ambient dream-pop music, lest they find a way to broaden their sound to incorporate other genres. Then again, that’s what people said 25 years ago about hip-hop and look how that turned out.



  1. hmm... ja, i don't know about this one, but have you heard STAARK? -- ein erstaunliches neues indie ElektroPop band von Australien -- worth listen! XD

  2. Often times dream pop may seem spacey at first but it's really not. The heavy layering of noise often creates the misconception that nothing is really occurring in the music, but really this haze that forms shows a lot of movement. Volume increases coupled with pitch changes can prove to be just as powerful with ten fuzzy instruments as a few guitars pounding out solos or power chords. I respect the fact that you do not love dream pop but to suggest that its listeners are cold, detached, and lack a connection with their emotions is unfair. They simply have a different approach.