On April 11th Liz Harris (better known as Grouper) self-released two new records, Dream Loss and Alien Observer. Their narcotic, drifting soundscapes are at once aquatic and cosmic; vocals buried in reverb; evocative sci-fi lyrics and shadowy electric piano tones making for the perfect soundtrack to gazing at footage of nebulae. The lo-fi aesthetic of the acclaimed 2008 LP Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill has dissipated in favour of clearer (yet still otherworldly) textures. This new found tangibility has allowed Harris’ songwriting skills to shine through her shimmering mist of delay effects.
Her return to the fold is timely, following other fragments of quixotic, feminine dream pop that have seemingly dropped from the stars onto record decks of late. Julianna Barwick’s The Magic Place is an almost entirely a cappella voyage of swirling chorales, like Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins exhaling in limbo. She’s been called the hip Enya, but her strangely natural constellations of looped and layered sighs are thankfully mesmerising enough to weather that description. With her classically informed structures and hallowed tone, she’s a one-woman choir, creating intricate tapestries of vocal sound that call to mind both Bjork’s Medulla as well as whale song. And somehow get away with it.
Another dreamy coven, Braids of Montreal dived deep into waves of hallucinogenic melody for their record Native Speaker. The title track is a particular treat, undulating and cresting like an all-female parallel universe version of pre-Strawberry Jam Animal Collective. Again, Bjork seems to be a reference point, ‘Lammicken’ populated with wails from lead singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston that mimic the Icelandic loon’s ululations on ‘Hyperballad’. It’s testament to the hypnotic ambiance of the record that it manages to keep rapt attention throughout its ambitious eight-minute-plus explorations.
But Braids aren’t the only ladies making ethereal sounds in the Canadian city. Grimes is the solo project of one Claire Boucher, who released Geidi Primes last year and a split EP called Darkbloom with D’Eon on April 12th. Although the instrumentation is more upbeat and abrasive than the three aforementioned artists, her vocals, bolstered with dub beats, are definitely in tandem with their waiflike/wraithlike resonances. With omnipresent swathes of ghostly harmony and confidently sung yet fragile leads, this gothically styled chanteuse should be one to watch. ‘Devon’ is perhaps her finest track thus far, propelled by ‘Running Up That Hill’ percussion and drowned in gossamer melodies that echo away into the darkness. This year it’s all about the dream pop girls.