Less than a decade after it made a brief appearance on the critical radar, hypnogogic pop appears to be vying for a revival at the hands of Vinyl Williams and his gorgeous Brunei.
Is it possible that the cyclical nature of modern pop music has sped up and doubled back on itself to the point of time essentially collapsing in on itself? While it’s 2016, it might as well be 2010 or 2005 or 2000 or even 1995 based on the speed at which younger and younger groups are reviving styles that served as demarcation points within the industry. From the grunge revivalists, to those rehashing emo’s better elements, to what now appears to be a hypnogogic pop revival.
A brief blip on the musical radar, hypnogogic pop was characterized by its ephemeral, unintelligible lyrics, swirling, vintage-sounding percussion and use of drums as the gently driving force. It was a movement befitting its name, featuring acts like Delorean, Toro y Moi, Neon Indian, Ducktails, and Washed Out. These names alone help conjure images of the music itself, all warped sound, somnambulant vocals and synth-heavy instrumentation.
With Brunei, Vinyl Williams leads what could well be seen as a revival of this short-lived fad within the indie rock world, so much so that it would be hard to tell the exact year in which the album was released. Throughout, his vocals are wrapped in a veil of reverb and echo to the point of becoming an inconsequential part of the songs' thematic content and more an additional instrumental voice soaring atop the electronic drums, fuzzed-out guitars and bleary synths.
Both “Riddles of the Sphinx” and “L’Quasar” function as prime examples of the hypnogogic pop sound with their fluttering drums, layered synths and non-descript vocals. The latter benefits from a soaring, triumphant chorus that carries the song well beyond the sonic morass within which many of his predecessors found themselves bogged down as they took the genre’s sonic principles to washed out extremes.
“Feedback Delicates” relies on a squelchy effected guitar line that serves as the song’s central motif, one which breaks up the relative monotony of the walls of sound present on nearly all other tracks. At five minutes, it flows almost suite-like from this initial statement to a psych-rock bridge back into the main guitar figure. It’s one of Brunei’s most stylistically diverse moments and a clear highpoint from a compositional standpoint, hitting all the requisite hypnogogic pop tropes while also managing to throw in a bit of heady psych rock for good measure.
On “Celestial Gold”, he manages to create a sound befitting the title, all astral projected pop and subtly winning hooks. While much of the album is fairly nondescript upon cursory listens, repeated, almost meditative time spent with the album reveals its deceptive complexities. With so much going on, it’s almost a case of not being able to see the forest for the trees, the sound washing over the listener with each individual element buried and wending its way throughout the track.
Given the relative stylistic sameness throughout, there are no real low points to speak of, but the album does tend to find itself dragging slightly around the midway point with the back-to-back combination of the rather shapeless “Evol” and “Voidless”. This isn’t to say either is without merit, rather they lack the discernible melodic elements present elsewhere and thus find themselves awash in a sea of sound without any real defining moments.
And while a hypnogogic pop revival may be a tad premature, Vinyl Williams’ Brunei is a fine opening salvo, staying true to its most direct inspirations while ever so subtly pushing the form into vaguely new directions. It’s by no means a revelatory or game-changing statement, rather a fine addition to an existing catalog of related artists trafficking in the more blissed-out elements of indie rock. Headphones and a quiet space to listen and chill out required for maximum impact.