Far From Madding Crowd

Teen Daze's new album recoils from reality, seeking solace in life-affirming melodies and colourful synths By Chanun Poomsawai

Canadian musician Jamison Isaak has been operating under the moniker Teen Daze since 2010, the time when chillwave was still having its moment in the sun and generated a smattering of bands with nostalgia-inducing names like Washed Out, Memoryhouse, Memory Tapes, Sun Glitters and Youth Lagoon, among others. Over the course of the following few years, Isaak would continue to blissfully ride the chillwave, producing a sizeable discography consisting of five studio albums and four EPs -- each of which draws upon varying degrees of crepuscular synths, nebulous melodies and wistful lyricism.

Teen Daze's latest offering, forebodingly titled Themes for Dying Earth, arrives long after the haze of chillwave dissipated. But then again, this is not a chillwave record per se. Isaak has honed enough skills as a musician over the years to finally craft something that marks his foray into an ambient pop territory. Doing away with sun-drenched synths and beachy vibes, he opts for a more lush soundscape as a way to cope with crippling anxiety and find his own place in the world.

Cycle raises the curtain with a gentle sway of bright keyboards. "I wake with the sounds of mourning," Isaak muses, his gauzy vocals accompanied by the calming sound of running water. The song addresses the artist's struggle with anxiety and depression, and counteracts it with a slice of sonic optimism. It's a gorgeous, melodic opening track that brilliantly sets the tone for the rest of the album.

Dream City and Becoming follow with deeply contemplative, almost funereal melodies. Lost finds him teaming up with Nadia Hulett to create a pop-leaning, hook-laden piece that recalls Paracosm-era Washed Out. "Deep inside the woods is where I go to understand," Hulett croons, echoing the escapism sentiment that underpins the record. Dustin Wong-guested Cherry Blossoms brings to mind M83's Dead Cities, while First Rain (feat S Carey) provides the ethereal comfort akin to a light drizzle on a hot day.

Elsewhere, collaborators Sound of Ceres and Jon Anderson give tracks like Rising and Anew a fittingly soothing quality. Perhaps the most otherworldly-sounding of the set, Water in Heaven drifts and flows over a sea of soft, sprawling synths. Closer Breath sustains the ambience with layers of synths that gently weave in and out like human lungs, creating a sphere of tranquillity so arrestingly pleasing.

Don't let its title fool you -- Themes for Dying Earth is in no way as disheartening as it lets on. Sure, there are some downbeat moments, but those pale in comparison with the overall idyllic sonic sensibilities that provide colours and a sliver of hope. This is, by far, Isaak's most coherent and well-rounded body of work -- one that will help him break free from the chillwave mould. If you ever feel like the world is getting a bit much, take refuge in this record and you'll emerge from it renewed and ready to tackle another day.


Summer Dress/ 1917

Panda Records' Summer Dress have come a long way since their 2013 debut single, Ratree. Compared to that track, their latest offering, 1917, is substantially more refined and mature, thanks in part to the label's go-to French producer Jean-David Callouet. Here, it seems that the indie-pop quintet have eschewed the jangly guitar groove a la Two Door Cinema Club and opted for a more atmospheric sound. A wise move, and, if anything, this is making us that much more psyched about their sophomore studio record, aptly titled Serious Music.

Little Dragon/ High

The Swedish indietronica quartet are back with High, their first new music since the release of their fourth LP, Nabuma Rubberband, back in 2014. As its title suggests, the electro-R&B jam is an ode to getting, well, high and revelling in the blissed-out state of mind. "I press my head on your shoulder/There's nowhere else I'd rather be … Feel free to roll/Another one for me," vocalist Yukimi Nagano sings in her signature languorous croon. So far there's no word on whether or not this will signal a new album proper. Either way, we'll take what we can get at this point.

Pixx/ I Bow Down

Goth-pop darling Pixx, aka Hannah Rodgers, has previously made an impression on us with tracks like A Way To Say Goodbye, Fall In and Baboo. Now, the rising singer-songwriter is giving us another taste of her musical ingenuity with I Bow Down, a lead single taken from her long anticipated debut album, The Age of Anxiety. Underpinned by a lurching melody, the song finds Pixx resorting to her nonchalant vocals as she muses "I salute your kindness/I bow down to your goodwill." It's equal parts endearing and sinister.

Depeche Mode/ Where's the Revolution

Out of all the new releases this week, Depeche Mode's latest cut, Where's the Revolution, is the most politically topical of the lot. Lifted from their forthcoming 14th new album Spirit, the slow-burning synth-pop track is a sombre rumination on the current state of things in the Trump era. "You've been kept down/You've been pushed around," frontman Dave Gahan sings. "You've been lied to/You've been fed truths." The remaining members Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher then join in for a classic, anthemic Depeche Mode chorus: "Where's the revolution? Come on, people/You're letting me down!"

Crush Club/ We Dance

Things may be looking a little bleak and hopeless as far as the world current affairs are concerned (see above), but fret not, NYC's indie-pop duo Crush Club aim to inject some exuberant fun into our lives even just for a fleeting moment. Arriving on the heels of last year's single Get Me Off, We Dance combines elements of house and funk with late '80s-early '90s Europop vibes. And like a cherry on top, the pair round the whole thing off with some glorious percussion. What more could you possibly ask for?


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