One of the problems with a music genre like dreampop is that to the average consumer with an untrained ear, most of it sounds more or less the same. Not that each individual song or composition literally has the same sounds, but that it all tends to evoke the same response.
Dreampop in particular suffers from the fact that everything sounds . . . well . . . dreamy. It’s supposed to, right? Of course, to those familiar with a lot of the bands that make up the genre, it’s obvious that the same effect is achieved in a variety of ways. Despite the similarity of hushed tones, muted vocals, and an over-all wispiness, individual artists use a vast range of instruments and techniques to accomplish the same sensations. Chicago’s Melochrome is a band that has always favored the warmer sound of more organic instruments to evoke their own brand of dreampop haze, and This is Motion, the group’s third full-length release, is no exception.
What is different about This is Motion is the way in which these songs were developed and composed. Scrapping their previous methods of composing directly on and for guitar, the songs on this new release were crafted using simple Fender Rhodes piano lines and then building upon that skeleton with an assortment of guitar, bass, drums, electric organs, and the occasional use of horns and mellophones. Adding to the spaced out somnambulism of the disc is the use of various filters and oscillators in the final production mix. The result is an oceanic album that laps at the ears in lazy tides, but still has the majestic sense of scale that encompasses the calm vista of the sea. Okay, that was over the top, and inspired by the album’s recurrent seaside themes. But it sounds better than, “really, really good”.
One key to the success of Melochrome’s formula is that the songs themselves seem to breathe with their own calm, and never one that is forced through the manipulation of the instruments. Another is that the instrumentation and style is changed up just enough to make each track fresh and distinct without giving up the overall sense of serenity. The album’s opener, quirkily titled “An Afterthought”, incorporates an Indian flair that anchors the entire track in a hypnotic buzz, yet the sound isn’t further repeated on the album. Similarly, “A Forethought” utilizes spacey dub techniques that add some life to what would otherwise be an excessively languid track. However, far and away the most impressive and successful aspect of the album is the use of rich brass notes to give a warm vitality to many of these songs. The trumpet flourishes that chime in “Catalina Girls” and “Out Late” are the perfect hooks for these tracks, never overwhelming or out of place, but always attention grabbing and expansive.
The smooth, oscillating production of This is Motion combines with its organic feel to produce an album that definitely seems to have a life of its own. The even pacing is consistent with its oceanic vibe of tidal motion. Where lyrics are used, they’re often obtuse and do little to detract from the instrumental aspects of these songs. In fact, when Pramod Tummala and Darlene Pool harmonize, their sleepy, hushed vocals are basically just another instrumental component to the mix rather than a point of focus. But for all these distinct element of Melochrome’s work, their music definitely falls into the broad category of dreampop. And where generalizations are concerned with dreampop, all the adjectives used always amount to the conclusion that it’s chill-out music. The only real evaluative question that can be asked from that summation is whether or not it works.
I’m pleased to report that This is Motion most definitely does work. This album accompanied me on two stressful weeks of train rides home from the office. Watching the darkening landscape slip by, Melochrome’s tunes helped soothe the frustrations of the day almost perfectly. Relaxing without being overtly sleep inducing, auditorily interesting yet calming, alive and beautiful, This is Motion managed to get me to the end of my commute a more sane and more peaceful individual. If that’s not dreampop chill-out music living up to its function, I don’t what is. It won’t stun you with its gorgeousness, instead it will softly draw you in, soothe you, and ultimately charm you.