Atmosphere is a difficult concept to build art around. Some artists like Joy Division use mood to great effect, building their entire discographies off of a single disposition. On the other side of the spectrum, pop music can often be sterile and lacking emotion. Bridging these two concepts is Korallreven, a Swedish duo made up Daniel Tjäder of The Radio Dept. and Marcus Joons. Together, they have created a rewarding, atmospheric pop record with their new mixtape, A Dream Within a Dream.
But we shouldn’t mistake atmosphere for solemnity—or lack of complexity. On the contrary, the mixtape exudes elation and delight for the entire record while effortlessly blending together multiple genres of music. The dance-pop of Britney Spears and rapid-fire techno of The Knife’s Olof Dreijer are naturally danceable and optimistic; the Swedish duo work more magic remixing the restrained efforts of Ciara and the Velvet Underground, organically adding a joyous attitude to the songs.
Even more impressively, while it’s hard to find similarities between Britney Spears, The Velvet Underground, and Samoan folk music, Korallreven use all three references beautifully to create a comprehensive and cohesive whole. It is evident from the beginning that this mixtape is not an ordinary pop recording or even a mashup à la Girl Talk. The mostly ambient background and quotations between remixes show that post-rock, particularly Godspeed You! Black Emperor, is a touchstone for the record. But even more evident is Tjäder’s touch from his work with The Radio Dept., a band which has been, not incorrectly, tagged with dream-pop and shoegaze influences; Tjäder brings some of these elements to A Dream Within a Dream, and these suggestions give the entire record a wistful texture, full of tinkling xylophones and haunting synths, creating a pleasant layer of haze gently underneath almost all of the tracks.
The record starts with the pop—remixes of Ciara’s “Deuces” and Spears’ recent hit “Till the World Ends”—but gorgeously crescendos to more experimental works. The apex is a reworking of fellow Swedish band This Is Head’s “0007”. It is here that the dream-pop atmosphere perfectly meshes with an alluring bass beat and a perfectly smooth vocal performance.
Despite the tasteful mix, flaws as still evident. The largest misstep is the reworking of the Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes”. The mix drags slightly through the slower, more somber song before slowly transitioning back to the more upbeat tracks ahead.
A Dream Within a Dream certainly has its own diverse sound—a mix of ambient post-rock and dream-pop—in this rich blend. At the same time, it’s a record that seems appropriate for any occasion. The pop mixes give it dance club cred (the Britney Spears remix is a perfect dance mix), while the downbeat treatment “Pale Blues Eyes” receives is perfect for a night at home. Simply put, the record sounds like no other released this year, despite being created from little original material. More importantly, it is a sublime amalgamation of modern pop music, its sounds and technologies.
Partly because of the sheer diversity, Korallreven’s A Dream Within a Dream is an unparalleled success. The 25-minute runtime of the mixtape is a perfect introduction to the band—straight to the point, leaving the listener wanting more. This is the perfect tactic for the quirky duo that is coming out with its first proper album in November. We can only hope that the follow-up is as strong as this debut.