Tuesday, August 29, 2017

EP Review: Dreams Are Like Water - A Sea-Spell (2017)

Of all the local debut releases I've been exposed to over the past couple of years, few have made as big a first impression (on me) as A Sea-Spell, the highly polished first outing for Wellington three-piece Dreams Are Like Water.

I suspect a small part of that is simply down to a personal genre preference, with Dreams Are Like Water specialising in the sort of dark post-punk your reviewer reserves a real fondness for. But by the same measure, my love of that sound just as likely means I'm going to listen with a far more critical ear than I perhaps otherwise would.

In fact, it's virtually impossible to listen to the EP - which traverses four tracks - without spontaneous recall of early Cure, Kaleidoscope-era Siouxsie, All About Eve, or the ethereal dark beauty of the Cocteau Twins’ best work. Incidentally, the band name is the title of a This Mortal Coil tune, and TMC was, of course, a precursor act and 4AD label-mate of the Cocteau Twins.

So that’s the general template offered here, or at the very least, the band – Rosebud Garland (vocals, piano, bass), Michel Rowland (vocals, guitar), and Jamie Scott Palmer (synths/keys, guitar) – is able to offer up its own variation on those rather terrific touchstones. While the ethos is perhaps a little derivative, the execution here is distinctly original.

There's a lightness of touch and an unhurried charm about proceedings, best demonstrated on the title track and opener, which features a gentle melody and shared vocals from Garland and Rowland. There’s an immediate sense that this is going to be dark stuff, yet Garland’s almost saccharine vocal gives it a lift, and her voice offers the requisite shard of light amid the wider sense of gloom. It really is a wonderful early example of the subtlety and balance at play right across the duration of the EP.

‘(Thrice) In Blood’ is of a higher tempo, slightly edgy, with swirly post-punk guitar, and intermittent use of piano. Those somewhat haunting keys feature again on ‘Ineffable’, an atmospheric brooding equivalent, which is perhaps best appreciated after several plays. That way you can digest the extra layers of texture, and fully appreciate the way the band is able to skilfully master the delicate art of repetition. Which is key, a hook in itself, and quite a powerful thing.

I initially thought ‘(Thrice) In Blood’ was the best track on the EP, but it turns out I just needed to be more patient with the closer, ‘Feathered Infant Bells’, which becomes an exercise in slow-build and tension; we’re nearly a full four minutes into it before Garland's vocal finally kicks in and the whole thing starts reveal itself in all of its fluorescent multi-layered glory. There’s some superb vocal FX on offer as the powers of light and dark once again start to caress and bounce off of each other, and this nine-minute epic is a perfect finale to what is a truly intense listening experience.

The whole thing is lovingly mixed and produced by Bryan Tabuteau (Molière Recording), and if there’s an EP or album with more fitting cover art this year – a painting by 19th century artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti (called A Sea-Spell, naturally) – then I’ve yet to discover it.

You can pick up your copy of the EP at the Dreams Are Like Water Bandcamp page (here)
And here’s ‘Feathered Infant Bells’:


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