dreamTX’s debut album, living in memory of something sweet, is a hybrid of indie pop, shoegaze, emo, ambient, and R&B that’s as unsettling as it is soothing, feral as it is familiar, wily and gnarled as it is unflaggingly melodic. Even without knowing that the Dallas-raised, Los Angeles-based artist Nicholas Das remembers the release of Merriweather Post Pavilion as a life-altering event, an astute listener will likely pick up on the project’s primary touchpoints: Animal Collective, yes, but also Broken Social Scene and Modest Mouse, How to Dress Well and Alex G. living in memory is an ambitious and intuitive psychedelic guitar-pop album that pulls from its predecessors without mimicking them and iterates upon their sound without replicating it.
Das is an NYU alum who co-wrote and produced “On + Off” and “Celadon & Gold” with former classmate Maggie Rogers and contributed music to the 2020 film Shithouse, in addition to playing in the band Kraus and scoring commercials, podcasts, and documentaries. But he aspired to more than piecemeal placements and occasional touring opportunities. When he landed a residency at the Byrdcliffe Colony in Woodstock, New York, he tunneled into his work, learning how to make complex compositions sound accessible rather than “hyper-articulate and totally wild.” living in memory is the product of this searching time. “You can either make something new or something good,” he said after the album’s release. “I was desperate to make something that was in some way both.”
The results of Das’ efforts may not sound entirely new, but they sure sound good. A song like “Elated” is clearly in conversation with recent electronic shoegaze artists like Jane Remover and Parannoul, but the vocal performance feels distinct, springing with pitch-shifted falsetto indebted to both R&B and Midwestern emo. The song does have a discernible structure—strummed acoustic guitar in the verses, noise-walled choruses, glitchy bridges—but its shape is slippery, devolving into chaos just when you think it’s going to settle down.
There’s a homespun charm to the album, a DIY spirit that gives character to even the more conventional tracks. It’s easy to imagine a polished and sanitized rendition of “In Too Deep” being performed by a pop-folk troupe like the Lumineers, but Das’ approach is refreshingly eccentric. Aside from the slick vocal processing, several stylistic choices—like the choral chants and synth effects that sneak into the upper midrange of the mix—offset the otherwise standard handclaps and tambourine rattles. Similarly, the clean-cut indie rock of “I Tried” is subverted by a tunneling ambient pad and Das’ warbled falsetto. Even at their most pleasantly straightforward, the songs are marked by an inspired unpredictability, a deliberate weirdness that gives otherwise simple ideas an exciting edge.
A defining feature of dreamTX’s music is the lack of decipherable lyrics. Das is most intelligible on the electrifying “Live Without,” where he sings, “I don’t want to write this song/I don’t want to live without you,” but even this refrain morphs and crumbles. Using his voice as though it were another instrument allows Das to burrow into a feeling and broaden it into a three-dimensional form, but at times I longed for more mappable meaning; the striking melodies of a song like “Cannot Believe” might have been rendered even more affecting had they been paired with some captivating detail or scrap of story. The coos and caws and cries for help, however, construct their own sort of dream logic, one that offers knotty, tempestuous emotions for those times we can’t articulate what feelings we’re actually experiencing.
Though living in memory of something sweet’s first seven songs are rousing and energetic, the album’s pacing is uneven. The closing songs—two droopy indie-rock numbers and an ambient guitar instrumental—are melodically interesting, but in sequencing them together, the record ends on a tepid and unrepresentative note. For a project whose radiance stems from its intuitive ease, the dip in energy is puzzling. But that shouldn’t distract from Das’ achievement: With a curious ear and playful touch, he’s welded together familiar touchstones and made something fresh out of them.
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