Kath Bloom: This Dream of Life

We're all dreams, evaporating before each other's eyes, within Kath Bloom's complicated folk, transcendent but grounded in human weakness.

Kath Bloom

This Dream of Life

Label: Caldo Verde
US Release Date: 2017-03-10
UK Release Date: 2017-03-10

The title This Dream of Life recalls Kath Bloom’s hard-to-track-down 1994 album It’s Just a Dream and its stunning title track, where life starts to feel like a dream, and not necessarily a good one. This Dream of Life’s opening title track begins with a similar pessimism about our world. In 1994 it was, “the whole world is for sale / everything is going stale.” Now life is a prison where everyone’s competing to break out first, and lying to each other in the process. “This dream of life / is not for the faint of heart.”

In 2017 Kath Bloom’s voice can be as sublime as it was two decades ago; it wavers with the same mix of uncertainty and peacefulness. But aging has added more gravity to that wavering, which in a song like “This Dream of Life” drives the visceral edge deeper into our guts.

As a folk singer performing with the ubiquitous acoustic guitar, Kath Bloom may seem a relic of another time. But there’s nothing here that’s era-dependent. This is present-tense folk music of no era. Or every era. And the passing of time itself is always part of the fabric of the thing, as it was in Before Sunrise, the 1995 film where two maybe-lovers who have limited time sit in a record booth and listen awkwardly, tenderly to Kath Bloom sing.

That moment was sweet, and Kath Bloom’s music is full of sweetness. But it’s a strange sweetness, like in life. The sweet and tender moments on This Dream of Life are complicated, and never far from sadness, terror, and deep uncertainty. Mainly about people, how we act and how we treat each other. Human failure is everywhere -- mistakes, lies, betrayal. On “I Just Can’t Make It Without You”, Bloom builds a desperate love song on it. “You can do me wrong / I’ll do it back to you” -- that’s the story of love. “How Can I Make It Up to You” is related, with Bloom leading a group singalong around the slipperiness of forgiveness and rectitude. There's little chance for true closure – “Whoever said love heals is sorely mistaken”.

There’s a lot of saying farewell on this album. If not a break-up album it at least seems like a farewell album. Those farewells hurt. But lingering behind them is the ultimate farewell. “Reminds Me Of It” cleverly starts out like a break-up song, but then you realize the “going away” she’s worried about is death. So the song becomes a poetic litany of things that remind her of death: “thunder of a summer storm, our favorite actor in fine form, oh! Your kisses sweet and warm”. The song describes sadness but is sung and played with a certain optimism, or at least sweetness, built from resignation. There’s a hovering synthesizer that I imagine is wearing a hooded cloak and carrying a scythe.

Kath Bloom uses repetition on that song and several others, taking the first verse and making it the third as well, or almost a chorus. If that tactic strikes any listener as lazy, it’ll strike others as brilliant. There is an aura about Kath Bloom that I know, from experience, hits different listeners in starkly different ways. A voice that cuts through time and space, to the heart, for some, is grating to others. Her guitar playing’s simplicity can come off as transcendent or rudimentary. That multiplicity could be seen as a fault of her music, but it strikes me that multiplicity is essential to her songwriting and performance. This Dream of Life is particularly open to multiplicity -- it might even be a driving force behind the album. These songs are about human flesh and bones but gather in the stars and their dust; they write human weakness and eccentricity into mythology. The personal becomes the apocalyptic, on songs like “This Love Has Got a Mind Of Its Own”, one of the most devastating songs in her discography.

The way the songs all fade out is important to me. It feels like her singing will go on forever, even as its dying, the way the human race seems eternal and about to perish.

The brief final track, “Baby I’m the Dream You Had”, returns to the idea of a dream, and this time people are dreams, moments are dreams, everyone and everything is evaporating. And there’s different kinds of dreams -- the ones you think you can escape on and those that end up escaping from you before you can get a handle on them. “Baby I’m the dream, and I’ve floated by”, she sings, embodying the ghostliness of us all. Earlier in the album, on “Let’s Get Going”, the spryest and maybe lightest of the songs, she turns this same human disappearing act into a call to action -- “Let’s get going even though what we’re knowing just keeps on blowing clear out of sight.”







Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."


The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.


Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.


Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.


Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.


Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.


The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.


Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.


The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.


'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.


Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.


Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.


South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.


Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.


'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.