Review Summary: Floating classroom

The best dream pop lives and breathes comfort so naturally and with such indifference to material constraints that it’s prohibitively absurd to deconstruct its form; the worst lands as a vapid attempt at user-friendly gratification with little or nothing to show beneath its wafer-thin aesthetics. It’s a fine line, as prone to over-polished banalities as to otherwise ineffable magic. Now, Macaroom’s spread of ideas has never confined itself to dream pop - their style has interpolated anything from folktronica to ambient- and glitch- pop - but they plunged full-tilt into that genre’s bliss and alleviation on 2018’s Swimming Classroom, a record that played like candyfloss compared to the fascinating weave of glitches and subtleties they spun on their earlier output. That album was still full of intricacies, but these drove its hooks rather than its accompaniment, paths to immediacy rather than hints of depth that begged to be uncovered over however many repeats.

Their long-awaited follow-up Inter Ice Age 4 takes this a step further, offering by far their sparsest arrangements to date. Everything on this record is in plain sight from the get go, but the goalposts have shifted yet again: in place of saccharine flourishes, we are now faced with songs so blissed-out we hardly have a chance to catch up with them, each development skittering and dissipating through the arrangement like ripples over a calm lake. Where Macaroom once drew on each listener’s patience to mine their work for subtle details over repeated listens, here they simply point us to absorb it in realtime with as much attention as we can spare. Inter Ice Age 4 is hardly a challenging record from minute to minute, but it is situational; it demands a reflective listening attitude that may throw anyone expecting more of Swimming Classroom’s gratification. Its sparseness makes for an impressive aesthetic unity (perhaps the group’s most seamless to date), but it occasionally wears thin enough to expose patches of drabness: “kisya" attempts to duplicate “hong kong”’s incremental layering of glitches over a placid piano accompaniment but lacks the melodic strength to see this off, while “ushiro” is a frankly unforgivable cut that packages the group’s tweest qualities into a one-dimensional nursery car crash and marks their lowest low by a considerable margin.

Far stronger are the tracks that support themselves with a firm rhythmic foundation, as on “mugen”’s coy saunter or “yakan-hikou”’s impeccable pop daydream, or - better still - those that use the album’s tranquil palette as a platform for wider experimentation. These come as late highlights “mother” and “nemurini”, both originally heard on 2019’s Official Bootleg (a) EP, return with slicker arrangements and a newfound sense of spaciousness. The former is overall as impressive as ever, though it misses the cinematic majesty of its original opening arrangement, while the latter’s newly added ambient string accompaniment finally raise it up as the ambitious career highlight it seemed destined as from the start. More than anything else since the group’s 2014 masterpiece Homephone TE, it opens up otherwise inannexable pockets of liminal space and roams them like a seasoned sleepwalker. Vocalist Emaru breaks new ground with her elfin stylings on both, supported by heavily modulated contributions from producer Asahi: the two play with Japanese phonetics like little else I’ve heard, slurring and eliding commonplace sounds with a keen rhythmic focus, establishing a style open to any number of triangulations between art pop, rap and spoken word. “nemurini” makes for a fascinating finale, equal parts epic and understated, and it’s the part that best encapsulates the childlike wonder that, right from the start, has always given Macaroom’s dream-adjacent spaceouts such a tangible edge in a world of empty fantasies. Inter Ice Age 4’s listless moments may raise a few eyebrows, but for anyone with an ear for this group’s uniquely blithe articulation of delicate oddballs, this is as cogent an episode as any in their watertight discography.




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user ratings (20)
3.3
great


Comments:Add a Comment 
JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
July 25th 2022


61289 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

This is the album we have all been

Slex
July 25th 2022


16801 Comments


Hmmmmm

YoYoMancuso
Staff Reviewer
July 25th 2022


19034 Comments


Homephone TE was great, gonna listen to this soon

Also this rating chart gives me anxiety

SteakByrnes
July 25th 2022


30135 Comments


woah new mcdonalds room let's go

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
July 25th 2022


61289 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

one skim over the names on that ratings list should tell you all you need to know

this is nowhere near the level of Homephone and not quite as good as Swimming Classroom, but still solid. few of their best tracks on this, as well as their absolute worst. probably not going to return to it as much as a whole (read: no weekly listening) but the keepers are keeping

MarsKid
Emeritus
July 25th 2022


21035 Comments


I've been waiting for this revie,w, I think that it is

Prancer
July 25th 2022


1621 Comments


nice ratings chart

JesperL
Staff Reviewer
July 25th 2022


5550 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

review!

Gnocchi
Staff Reviewer
July 26th 2022


18258 Comments


Hmmmm

percyforward
July 26th 2022


137 Comments


Johnny what are those best and worst in your opinion?


JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
July 26th 2022


61289 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

Best = Yakan-Hikou (classic Macaroom pop track) and Nemurini (absolutely fantastic ambient pop odyssey, unique track within and without the discog)

with Mother as the runner up (though I narrowly prefer the EP version)

Worst = Ushiro (yikes.)

Kisya is a bit of a flop and the t/t overstays its welcome for me - everything else is solid!

MiloRuggles
Staff Reviewer
July 26th 2022


3069 Comments


okay fine i'll listen to Homephone TE again, geez

Demon of the Fall
July 26th 2022


34923 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

'this is nowhere near the level of Homephone and not quite as good as Swimming Classroom, but still solid'



Swimming Classroom is decent for sure, but there was a clear chasm of difference between the two for me. Will check this anyway.

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
July 26th 2022


61289 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

difference between an easy 5 and a comfortable 4 yes. it's awkward bc the best on SC are easily good enough to suggest it might have been on the same level in another reality

I was probably being a little unfair on this - dunno if it's much better or worse than SC (and it's certainly more adventurous when it pushes it), but I also dunno if I'll come back to it nearly as much

Orb
July 28th 2022


9440 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

brb need to bleach my ears. great review tho

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
July 28th 2022


61289 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

ty Rowhaus

Lasssie
July 28th 2022


1622 Comments


ummm yes please



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