“They shouldn’t have to fade away.”
If the lyrics from “Lost” tell a story, it is that Teen Daze want nothing more than to hold on to a dream. The British Columbia-based artist lives for the idea that memories should not leave the mind with time. Through a Daughter-like melody of breezy electronics, Jamison Isaak and Nadia Hulett rise up and down, like they were riding the tide. It is a song that makes way for the end of the first half of Isaak’s fifth record Themes for Dying Earth, an album that fuses the chilly tundra environment of Glacier and the restless abandon of Morning World.
Themes, however, has a much brighter look at something dying. It is a record that gracefully moves from life to purgatory to death through rhythms that feel more peaceful than tragic. The most tragic part of a dying earth—literally or figuratively—is the loss of memory. Isaak does not seem to blot out the bad ones; it is more that the beautiful memories capture an energy so intense. And though a couple of sections of the record fail to capture such an overwhelming presence, Themes still puts its audience into a dream-state.
This state brings back the more chilly aspects to Teen Daze’s sound. The polyphonic texture of electronics over strings brings in the winter cold in a slow, yet endearing manner. An element like this would be nothing to write home about in another’s hands. However, the imagery used by Isaak and those he features on his tracks are what take the album further into a more ethereal realm. “Water in Heaven” presents words like they were being screened into the white light of heaven. “I felt another life lying in my bed / I dreamt I was an animal running through the sands” are expressions of candidness that break through the artificial. Along with lines from “Rising” (“What a beautiful way of watching our bodies fade”) and “Lost” (“…climb a tree, and reach a peak inside each other’s heart”), Isaak and company allow their audience to sink into a milky sea. The transition from life to death becomes the brightest thing in color and emotional tone.
The electronic portion of the record still holds as much gravity as its lyrics. On “Becoming”, the cold atmosphere and vocal tone combine to form a sense of longing within Isaak, almost like he was on a train, saying goodbye to a place he loves. In contrast to the more worried “Circle” is the blissful tone of “Cherry Blossoms”, a track with a riff that soars above its strings. “First Rain” employs a texture akin to a Bon Iver track, emptying words in a solitary field.
“Dream City”, “Anew”, and “Breath”, the more minimal songs in the album, do not take the opportunity to become more than that. They still dabble with the cold tones, but they add to the record by being an indication of time: “Dream City” touches on winter; “Anew” has the tone of the more sordid summer moments; while “Breath” takes on life, closing the record with rising synths that might as well represent a baby’s first breath into the world.
Themes is a record meant to sooth in its sensing of a crisis. It subtly implements the element of time, fashioning aspects like life and death into an intertwining of beautiful textures. The weather might be cold, and the earth might be dying, but time and memory are what drive humanity’s dream states.