Album of the Day: Death & Vanilla, “Are You A Dreamer?”
By Emma August Welter · May 17, 2019 Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Cassette

In songs that are saturated with warbling organ, glacial vibraphone, and a dazzling array of analog synths, Death & Vanilla pay earnest homage to the same sounds that influenced groups like Broadcast and Stereolab. And while ’60s psych pop, vintage soundtracks, and library music remain the touchstones on their third LP, Are You A Dreamer?, the results feel bigger and grander. If their previous albums were 16mm films, this one’s 35.

Frontwoman Marleen Nilsson’s wispy, layered vocals feel constantly on the verge of floating into the ether, but they remain tethered to each track by insistent, almost demandingly catchy basslines. (See “Eye Bath,” which balances juddering reverb with a chunky, loping groove.) In “Let’s Never Leave Here,” shimmering synths spiral into a breakdown that diffuses gradually, like a comet’s tail. It’s not hard to imagine “The Hum,” a slow, sparkling waltz set in motion by the brittle blips of a drum machine, echoing through the chambers of a deserted space station. This interplay of earth and air is the group’s defining characteristic: momentum builds and blossoms to create choruses that are at once lush and melancholy, before all of the elements suddenly snap back into place.

Are You A Dreamer? is peppered with questions about life on—and beyond—Earth. There’s the album’s title, for one, as well as a cryptic early line: “And what if I stay this time?” But don’t be fooled by this false sense of uncertainty; Death & Vanilla know exactly what they’re doing.

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