Review Summary: Tranquility, hope, and recovery
“Pastoral ambience” is how many have referred to Teen Daze’s sound; a fusion of ethereal pop vocals with layered synths, sampled sounds, and heavily filtered acoustics. If Jamison Isaak and his surrounding project earned this reputation on 2013’s Glacier
, then the latest offering is sure to cement their niche as one of the most gorgeous-sounding ambient indie-pop acts around. With tightly crafted hooks and subtle remnants of chillwave and shoegaze flowing effortlessly, Themes for Dying Earth
is an album you should probably listen to while laying down in the grass; staring up at the sky with a good set of headphones to reveal every small intricacy that this stunning record has to offer.
‘Cycle’ is the ideal opener, prefacing the entire experience with distorted vocals that give way to lithe and sprightly keyboard notes – all atop the gentle trickle of a secluded mountain stream. Expressing the beauty of nature through digital and electronic means is no simple feat, but Teen Daze hit the mark on their first attempt. The body of the song – wrapped within the most memorable vocal melody – provides an impetus whose energy can still be felt pulsing well into the more ambient, indistinct offerings that follow. ‘Dream City’, for example, offers a welcome reprieve; a peaceful aura that one can truly sink into and feel completely transported. Then the minute-and-a-half ‘Becoming’ serves as this gentle nudge, a piano-laden awakening from the deep thoughts summoned by its ambient predecessor. As a three part opening act, if you will, Themes for Dying Earth
immediately establishes a soothing and picturesque atmosphere.
It’s difficult to avoid critiquing Themes
chronologically because it flows so naturally and effortlessly. However, the middle portion of the record is quantifiable in a different way because it features a host of guest artists ranging from Nadia Hulett to Jon Anderson, and most notably S. Carey – who worked extensively with Justin Vernon and has since emerged in his own right. The most impressive feat amidst all of these included artists is that throughout the interwoven styles and collaborations, there is nary a wrinkle to be found. Themes
is distinctly and uniformly consistent, while maintaining the kind of detailed workings and dynamic shifts that keep listeners fully invested. ‘Lost’, for instance, enters the scene with prominent drums that bring forth more of a grounded, tangible sensation than the dream-like opening trifecta, and all while Hulett’s vocal contributions provide fresh melodic contrast. ‘Rising’ is as close as the record gets to becoming straight-up dream pop, channeling Beach House-like influences with waves of synth, bubbling keys, and the transcending voice of Sound of Ceres’ Karen Hover. The highlight of the entire album, however, just might be the breathtaking single ‘First Rain’, which is another masterpiece in a long line for S. Cary. In a lo-fi ode-to-nature, it samples light breezes, rustling leaves, and the pattering of rain as the backdrop to a lush medley of keyboard notes and chimes. If the beginning of the record leans towards the metaphysical, then the central portion delivers some of the most truly earthy
and naturally beautiful tracks of Teen Daze’s discography.
As the album nears its end, it wraps things up with a series of understated gems that help provide Themes for Dying Earth
with its enviable ebb and flow. ‘Anew’ feels foreign but warm in its approach, swaying to a tropical rhythm that paints a picture of an ocean sunset. The six minute penultimate track ‘Water In Heaven’ feels like a late album answer to ‘Dream City’, drowning itself in waves of electronic ambience just like the aforementioned track, only in a much grander, more fully-realized fashion that includes a gorgeously harmonized vocal component. The closer ‘Breath’ almost practices its namesake, with stunningly elegant synths that continuously elevate and then lower, almost as if to emulate the gentle rise and fall of one’s chest while breathing deeply in and out. It’s truly mesmerizing, and a fitting close to an album that takes turns relating to both nature and humanity.
Themes of Dying Earth
isn’t nearly as grim or ominous as the title implies; it’s full of tranquility, hope, and recovery. It’s as serene and uplifting of an album as you’ll hear so far in 2017, floating atop some of the most beautifully constructed song structures you’ll hear this side of Bon Iver. It’s not really indie-pop, dream-pop, or
chillwave, but rather a fusion of all three genres with some unique twists. If there were such thing as naturewave, that’d be spot on…so “pastoral ambience” actually ends up being quite an accurate summation after all. If you’re a fan of artists such as Horse Feathers, S. Carey, or Bon Iver, then this record is essentially required listening. Themes for Dying Earth
is fragile, beautiful to behold, dazzling at times, and easily one of the best surprises of the year thus far.