(Maximum Pelt Records)
What do you think of when you hear the phrase “dream pop”? Perhaps something soft and sweetly textured, slow moving with lazily drifting melodies. Relaxation, “drifting off to dreamland”. Whatever you might come up with, the first word to come to mind most likely wouldn’t be “propulsive”. It probably also wouldn’t be “aggressive” or “loud”. You wouldn’t necessarily expect a dream pop artist to compare their music to 13th Floor Elevators and hear the influence clear as day when the music came on. Sally Haze and her Dining Room EP are dream pop, but the dreams they conjure up are not solely limited to those of a peaceful rest you’ve been lulled into. They’re often lucid and vivid, bursting with bright colors. They can be sweet and invoke potent, palpable bouts of nostalgia, but they just as often chase you down and startle you.
Opening track “Waiting” immediately introduces us to the latter concept with its rhythm section. Often in dream pop, the rhythm is de-emphasized, but on “Waiting”, it’s the complete opposite: the drums are quick and powerful, steady aside from a few fills that punctuate extended passages, and emphasized heavily enough in the mix that they’re likely the first element your body recognizes. On top of that, they’re accompanied by the persistent rattling of tambourine, also far from hidden in the mix. The beat here has far more in common with what you’d hear on The Psychedelic Sounds of or even the baggy/Madchester records of the late ’80s and early ’90s than anything Cocteau Twins or Mazzy Star put out. The guitars have a bit more bite, muscle, and twinge than much of the genre’s offerings as well. By and large, the traditionally ‘dreamlike’ qualities of Dining Room are in the warm analogue synths that feel as though they could swallow you whole and Haze’s vocals, which are low in the mix, sugary, and as you might expect, hazy. Then again, even those get increasingly volatile in the final minute of of “Waiting”, bullying their way through the wall of sound with “Let me know when the sweetness is sour”.
“Waiting” is followed by “Sweet Lime”, which is probably the prettiest song on on Dining Room and is far more gentle by comparison, but the dynamic range still leads it to permeate the atmosphere with an air of strength. If there were a track on Dining Room to be slow danced to in a ’90s teen movie though, it would be “Sweet Lime”, with more subtle reverb on the guitars and twinkling keys, as well as some truly adorable lyrics: “Oh my baby, my sweet lime / it is now our time / We are now and forever / partners, partners in crime” as well as “I will sing you to sleep / with a lullaby / This is the life / life worth living / You are the one I always / needed and always will / I’ll be right here / here right by your side” perfectly capture innocent pure romance. “Tell Me Everything” brings back the quick drum/tambourine combo of “Waiting” and though slightly less driving and pronounced, the beat is still imminently danceable. What really characterizes it though are the synths towards the end, which sound like an array of lasers beaming back and forth in the night sky. “A Swim in the Sun” initially seems to be the most sleepy of the tracks, until explodes into what is ultimately the heaviest. It’s six-and-a-half-minute closer “You & Me” which is the least subversive, but it still ends up a lovely song and the drum/tambourine tandem returns for the third and final time to ensure that you’re still grooving.
As someone who loves the ways textures are formed and played with in dream pop but often finds themselves losing the grip on the balloon and watching it floating away so to speak, this is about all I could ask for. Strong melodies, strong rhythms, gorgeous textures, sweet lyrics and vocals, varied. This is a downright excellent debut from Sally Haze, and I’m already jonesing for more.
Favorite tracks: “Waiting”, “Sweet Lime”, “Tell Me Everything”
You can purchase Sally Haze’s Dining Room on cassette and digitally here.