Review Summary: Dreamland awaits.
Fawning (Cheyenne Avant and Devin Nunes) is a dream pop duo from California I recently discovered sifting through Bandcamp in the dead of night (as one does). I say “discovered,” but I’ve actually heard both artists' catalog before. Their previous work in the bands Night School and Whirr (respectively) were decent enough, but nothing I would’ve given a standing ovation for. Hell, as of this writing, I still haven’t given Cheyenne Avant’s band Night School a fair chance. But from what I’ve heard, it’s decent. Nunes only play drums for Whirr as far as I know, so I haven’t had a good gauge of his talents yet, but I guess he’s alright too.
So here we have two artists from bands that I have only middling feelings towards. Not exactly star-studded or anything. I’m not sure what mysterious force pushed me to check this group out. Seeing it pop up on Graveface Records’ Bandcamp in the middle of one of my nightly “crate-digging” romps across the internet, I didn’t see very much that would draw me in. But Illusions of Control, as far as I’m concerned, is the best thing either of these artists have done. Something truly wonderful. A tribute to the classic era of ethereal dream pop that manages to be on-par with, if not better than, those particular acts.
I sound like a hack critic saying that, but it’s true. The band has admitted as much. Atmospheric goth pop is something that I’ve only recently warmed up to, so perhaps I’m not the best person to make wild claims like the ones above. Though, I’d challenge anyone to listen to tracks like “Nothing Matters” and “You’re Not One to Cry” and try to argue with me. Both are near-perfect pop tracks, with Avant’s fragile, airy vocals meshing perfectly with the booming instrumentals and echoing drums (authentically provided by a drum machine, of course). Avant and Nunes have an impressive chemistry together here, well above that of groups that have been together for decades. The mixing is absolutely on-point as well. There’s a certain control that dream pop like this needs to have. It’s a balancing act. A touch too far in either direction and you risk making your album a squeaky-clean bore or unfocused noise. And for the most part, Fawning found the magic number here.
That isn’t to say there aren’t some rough edges. A few tracks bring in some ambient elements that, while not bad, seem to serve very little purpose. The 6-minute closing track “Linger” is especially culpable of this, which amounts to little more than a crescendo of synth chords and a few strums of the guitar. A disappointing end to an otherwise quality record.
But even with the lackluster closer, I found Illusions of Control to be an enchanting listen. I’m not exactly sure if it’s the late-night delirium talking, but it has a certain lush darkness that’s difficult to pull off. Like a dream that’s on the cusp of morphing into a nightmare. And yet, you awake wishing you were still there.