Just a year after its last studio LP, pacificUV ups its game in an impressive way, giving some real bite to its dreamy sound.
Sometimes, it only takes a year. In early 2012, Georgia-based pacificUV released its third album Weekends, a work as promising as it is maddening. It contains one of 2012’s best pop singles in “Funny Girl", whose sprightly arpeggiator melody rivals M83’s lauded “Midnight City” in sheer catchiness. Unfortunately, the rest of Weekends didn’t follow suit. The majority of the LP is taken up by flat shoegaze tracks that suck all of the momentum out of the record’s otherwise strong first half. (For the band to be described as "a psychedelic Jesus and Mary Chain tripping on NyQuil" was as accurate as it was an accidental slight.)
This style was an interesting choice, given that its sophomore outing, the stately Longplay 2, is quite successful in its crafting of hugely powerful soundscapes. One track on Longplay 2 in particular, the Mogwai-esque epic “Alarmist”, still stands as proof that pacificUV isn’t beholden to the worst parts about shoegaze and post-rock as they stand currently. Crafting an instrumental, “orchestral” epic in the style of Young Team or The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place is not particularly difficult to do anymore, and when pacificUV writes stuff as great as “Alarmist", it’s easy to get one’s hopes up. It’s when the group drifts off into ventures it’s less successful at (see the regrettable vocoder scattered throughout Weekends) that it becomes frustrating to take the music in on an album basis.
Now, with After the Dream You Are Awake, released through Mazarine, pacificUV has considerably upped its game without changing a whole lot. The constitutive elements of Weekends are still here -- breathy vocals, diverse electronic sounds, and a relaxed dream pop haze, to name a few -- but instead of sounding sleep-inducing, the music is in-your-face in the way that made “Funny Girl” so captivating. At times, the band even gets aggressive: “This is the way you haunt me” is a type of lyric pacificUV peddles in quite a bit -- vaguely emotive, intentionally unspecific -- but when backed with the intense, wave-like synths of “Russians", it takes on a genuine menace. Vocally, pacificUV leaves a bit much to be desired; on the otherwise hooky “Christine", an intriguing, almost poetic line like “Christine / Carve your name into my arm” becomes unintentionally creepy due to the disaffected, heavy whisper of the lead vocal. Instrumentally, however, the group hits it right on the nose all throughout this LP. Even when things take a turn for the derivative, like with the high-pitched M83 synths on lead single “24 Frames”, the band doesn’t go straight into copy-paste mode. “24 Frames” simmers rather than bursts, which is pretty much the opposite of the formula Anthony Gonzalez has made his name off of. These guys know their reference points, but they’ve progressed to the point where they aren’t so plainly beholden to them.
The strength of pacificUV’s enhanced confidence is summarized aptly in the gorgeous ballad “American Lovers". The distracting vocals are still there, but the interplay of textural synths and a spare guitar line enhances the simple chorus (“Under the covers / American lovers”) in a way that gets at the elatedness the band is constantly aiming at. Sonically, dreaminess often comes at the expense of sounding barely there, but After the Dream You Are Awake finds these Georgians adding some bite to their hazy textures. No longer enamored by the half-rememberedness of its dreams, pacificUV has finally found a way to convey the ideas floating around its cloudy mind with a vivacity that just a year ago with Weekends seemed far off. The title makes no mistakes: this album is the sound of pacificUV awaking from a dream, and like the nine tracks that compromise it, it must have been one memorable sleep.