Dream pop

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Dream pop (also typeset as dreampop)[9] is a subgenre of alternative rock[1] and neo-psychedelia[5] that is characterized by its preoccupation with atmosphere and sonic texture as much as pop melody, including characteristics such as guitar effects like reverb and echo, breathy vocals, and dense productions.

The genre came into prominence in the 1980s through the work of Cocteau Twins, A.R. Kane, and their contemporaries. Groups such as My Bloody Valentine, Galaxie 500, Lush, and Mazzy Star released significant albums in the style. It often overlaps with the related genre of shoegaze, and the two genre terms have at times been used interchangeably.[10]


The term dream pop is thought to relate to the "immersion" in the music experienced by the listener.[11] The AllMusic Guide to Electronica (2003) defined dream pop as "an atmospheric subgenre of alternative rock that relies on sonic textures as much as melody".[12] According to Paste, the genre emphasizes mood and sonics over lyrics, so that "chords and tracks blur seamlessly into one another so frequently that it can be difficult to even decipher when one song ended and another has begun."[13] Common characteristics are breathy vocals, the use of guitar effects, and a densely produced sound.[12][5] The music tends to focus on textures rather than propulsive rock riffs.[14] Effects such as reverb and echo are ubiquitous, with tremolo and chorus also heard on recordings.[15]

Lyrics are often introspective or existential in nature,[14] but may be difficult to hear or incomprehensible in the mix.[13] In the view of critic Simon Reynolds, dream pop "celebrates rapturous and transcendent experiences, often using druggy and mystical imagery".[5] In 1991, he suggested this escapist tendency might be a response to the cultural landscape of the UK during the 1980s: "After 12 years of Conservative government in Britain, any idealism or constructive political involvement seems futile to these alienated middle-class dropouts."[5] According to Rachel Felder, dream pop artists often resist representations of social reality in favour of ambiguous or hallucinogenic experiences.[16]


1960s–1970s: Origins[edit]

Author Nathan Wiseman-Trowse writes that the "approach to the sheer physicality of sound" integral to dream pop was "arguably pioneered in popular music by figures such as Phil Spector and Brian Wilson" (of the Beach Boys).[16] One such example of early dream pop is the Beach Boys' 1970 song "All I Wanna Do".[17][18] The music of the Velvet Underground in the 1960s and 1970s, which experimented with repetition, tone and texture over conventional song structure, was also an important touchstone in the genre's development.[16] Their 1967 debut The Velvet Underground & Nico incorporated what music critic Marc Beamount terms "psychedelic dream pop" in addition to a variety of other styles.[19] Music journalist John Bergstrom recognises George Harrison's 1970 track "Let It Down" as a progenitor of the genre, while stating that its Spector-produced parent album All Things Must Pass influenced "many guitar-driven, echo-drenched bands have come around since, mixing powerful rave-ups with moody, reflective down-tempo numbers and a spiritual bent.[20]

Early–mid 1980s: Development[edit]

A.J. Ramirez of PopMatters recognises an evolutionary line from gothic rock to dream pop.[3] The early 1980s gothic rock derivative "ethereal wave", with its effects-laden guitar sounds and female vocals, led to the dream pop and shoegaze scenes; it was represented by Cocteau Twins and labels such as 4AD and Projekt Records.[21] Rolling Stone describes "modern dream pop" as originating with the early 1980s work of Cocteau Twins and their contemporaries.[22] AllMusic's Jason Ankeny credits the Cocteau Twins' "distinctly ethereal" sound and singer Elizabeth Frazer's operatic, indecipherable vocals with defining their label, the UK-based 4AD.[23]

The 1984 album It'll End in Tears by 4AD's "dream-pop supergroup" This Mortal Coil[22] was conceived by label head Ivo Watts-Russell and featured members of Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance. The album helped "set the template for dream pop" and associated the formerly gothic-affiliated UK label with the style.[24] The album's 1983 single, the Tim Buckley cover "Song to the Siren", became an influential work in the genre, and saw success in the UK Indie Chart, remaining there consistently for two years.[24]

Film director David Lynch, unable to obtain the rights to This Mortal Coil's version of "Song to the Siren" for his 1986 film Blue Velvet, enlisted composer Angelo Badalamenti and singer Julee Cruise to record a replacement track. The result was "Mysteries of Love", described by Rolling Stone as a significant development of the dream pop sound which "gave the genre its synthy sheen".[22] The trio of Cruise, Lynch and Badalamenti later recorded the 1989 album Floating into the Night, which further elaborated on the style and featured the Twin Peaks theme and UK top 10 single "Falling".[22]

Late 1980s–1990s: Shoegaze scene[edit]

The term "dreampop" was coined in the late 1980s by Alex Ayuli of A.R. Kane to describe his band's eclectic sound, which blended ethereal dub production, distorted guitar, and drum machine, among other influences.[25] The group signed to 4AD to release their 1987 EP Lolita, produced by Cocteau Twins guitarist Robin Guthrie.[26] Pitchfork describes their debut album 69 (1988) as a "crucial document" of the dream pop movement, commenting that the group "aimed to emulate an ethereality that could just as easily become nightmarish [... T]hey reimagined their equipment's logical endpoints, bending, sampling, manipulating, stretching, filtering, distorting, and reversing every idea."[27] Their "dreampop" label was subsequently adopted by music critic Simon Reynolds to describe that group[28] and later extended to the nascent shoegazing scene in the UK.[5] Reynolds describes the movement as "a wave of hazy neo-psychedelic groups" characterised by a "blurry, blissful sound", and credits the influence of the "ethereal soundscapes" of Cocteau Twins as well as more distorted styles of American alternative rock.[5]

In the 1990s, "dream pop" and "shoegazing" were interchangeable and regionally dependent terms, with "dream pop" being the name by which "shoegazing" was typically known in America.[29] AllMusic describes the dream pop label as covering both the "loud, shimmering feedback" of My Bloody Valentine and the "post-Velvet Underground guitar rock" of Galaxie 500.[30] In Reynolds' view, My Bloody Valentine showcased a unique dream pop sound on their 1988 debut album Isn't Anything, with guitarist Kevin Shields employing a tremolo-arm technique in order to produce "an amorphous drone, at once visceral and disembodied".[5] Galaxie 500 provided a "cornerstone" of the genre in their 1989 album On Fire, with their downtempo, reverb-laden sound becoming influential.[13] UK bands acts as A.R. Kane, My Bloody Valentine and Ride played an influential role in the development of the movement.[31] Other prominent acts to emerge from the movement include Slowdive and Chapterhouse.[5]

The 1990 Cocteau Twins album Heaven or Las Vegas proved an iconic release in the genre.[24] The UK band Lush became an influential act in the genre during the 1990s, with Robin Guthrie producing their 1992 debut album Spooky.[31] The 1993 album So Tonight That I Might See by American band Mazzy Star reflected a dream pop sound specific to "the glitzy decay that is L.A.", according to Pitchfork; that publication called the album a "dream pop classic".[32] The late 1980s dream pop of A.R. Kane and My Bloody Valentine influenced 1990s acts such as Seefeel and Insides,[33] who began incorporating elements such as samples and sequenced rhythms.[34] Ambient pop music is described by AllMusic as "essentially an extension of the dream pop that emerged in the wake of the shoegazer movement", distinct for its incorporation of electronic textures and techniques such as sampling.[8]

2000s: Contemporary developments[edit]

Much of the music associated with the 2009-coined term "chillwave" could be considered dream pop.[9] In the opinion of Grantland's David Schilling, when "chillwave" was popularised, the discussion that followed among music journalists and bloggers revealed that labels such as "shoegaze" and "dream pop" were ultimately "arbitrary and meaningless".[35] The 2010 album Teen Dream by Baltimore duo Beach House established the group as purveyors of modern dream pop that drew on the "languid reveries" of Cocteau Twins, Mazzy Star and Galaxie 500.[24] The group's success in the late 2000s solidified the popularity of dream pop with millennial listeners.[36]

List of artists[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Anon (n.d.). "Dream Pop". AllMusic.
  2. ^ Olivier Bernard: Anthologie de l'ambient, Camion Blanc, 2013, ISBN 2-357-794151
    "L'ethereal wave s'est développée à partir du gothic rock ... Cela est rendu par des effets d'écho, de reverb et de delay très imposants sur les guitares... On relève une prédominance d'un chant féminin haut perché ou très ample et de voix masculines soufflées, douces at contemplatives. Les paroles sont parfois difficilement compréhensibles... L'ethereal wave (et notamment les Cocteau Twins) a grandement influencé le shoegaze et la dream pop. Les labels principaux promouvant le genre sont 4AD et Projekt Records."
  3. ^ a b Ramirez, A.J. (31 October 2009). "'Bela Lugosi's Dead': 30 Years of Goth, Gloom, and Post-Post-Punk". PopMatters. Retrieved 11 January 2017.
  4. ^ Fumo, Dante. "How to Record Dream Pop in Your Home Studio". Reverb. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Reynolds, Simon (1 December 1991), "Pop View; 'Dream-Pop' Bands Define the Times in Britain", The New York Times, retrieved 7 March 2010
  6. ^ Nathaniel Wice / Steven Daly: "The dream pop bands were lionized by the capricious British music press, which later took to dismissing them as "shoegazers" for their affectless stage presence.", Alt. Culture: An A-To-Z Guide to the '90s-Underground, Online, and Over-The-Counter, p.73, HarperCollins Publishers 1995, ISBN 0-0627-3383-4
  7. ^ Weiss, Dan (6 July 2012). "Slutwave, Tumblr Rap, Rape Gaze: Obscure Musical Genres Explained". LA Weekly.
  8. ^ a b "Ambient Pop". AllMusic.
  9. ^ a b Abebe, Nitsuh (22 July 2011). "Chillin' in Plain Sight". Pitchfork.
  10. ^ The 30 Best Dream Pop Albums|Pitchfork
  11. ^ Goddard, Michael et al (2013) Resonances: Noise and Contemporary Music, Bloomsbury Academic, ISBN 978-1-4411-5937-3
  12. ^ a b Bogdanov, Vladimir (2001). The AllMusic Guide to Electronica, Backbeat UK, ISBN 978-0-87930-628-1, p. ix.
  13. ^ a b c Staff. "The 25 Best Dream Pop Albums of All Time". Paste. Retrieved 29 May 2021.
  14. ^ a b Bogdanov, Vladimir (2001). All Music Guide to Electronica: The Definitive Guide to Electronic Music (4th ed.). Backbeat Books. pp. ix. ISBN 978-0-87930-628-1.
  15. ^ Fumo, Dante. "How to Record Dream Pop in Your Home Studio". Reverb. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  16. ^ a b c Wiseman-Trowse, Nathan (30 September 2008). Performing Class in British Popular Music. Springer. pp. 148–154.
  17. ^ Deriso, Nick (16 May 2021). "Top 10 Post-'Pet Sounds' Beach Boys Songs". Ultimate Classic Rock.
  18. ^ "Violet's 'tracks to listen to on tour' playlist, feat. Spinn, Kylie, Swim Deep and more". Dork. 16 May 2019.
  19. ^ Beaumont, Marc. "The Velvet Underground's Loaded at 50". The Independent. Retrieved 27 June 2021.
  20. ^ Bergstrom, John (14 January 2011). "George Harrison: All Things Must Pass". PopMatters. Retrieved 1 April 2012.
  21. ^ "L'ethereal wave s'est développée à partir du gothic rock ... Cela est rendu par des effets d'écho, de reverb et de delay très imposants sur les guitares ... On relève une prédominance d'un chant féminin haut perché ou très ample et de voix masculines soufflées, douces at contemplatives. Les paroles sont parfois difficilement compréhensibles ... L'ethereal wave (et notamment les Cocteau Twins) a grandement influencé le shoegaze et la dream pop. Les labels principaux promouvant le genre sont 4AD et Projekt Records."
  22. ^ a b c d Grow, Kory (25 July 2014). "Dream Team: The Semi-Mysterious Story Behind the Music of 'Twin Peaks'". Rolling Stone. Wenner Media. Retrieved 6 August 2016.
  23. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "Cocteau Twins' Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 8 March 2012.
  24. ^ a b c d Berman, Judy. "The 30 Best Dream Pop Albums". Pitchfork. Retrieved 27 May 2021.
  25. ^ King, Richard (2012). How Soon is Now?: The Madmen and Mavericks who made Independent Music 1975-2005. Faber & Faber. p. 206. ISBN 978-0-571-27832-9.
  26. ^ "A.R. Kane Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
  27. ^ "A.R. Kane: 69 Album Review | Pitchfork Media". pitchfork.com. Retrieved 14 February 2021.
  28. ^ Reynolds, Simon. "A.R. Kane features 1987-2012". Reynoldsretro.blogpsot.com. Retrieved 31 July 2017.
  29. ^ Tyler, Kieron (17 January 2016). "Reissue CDs Weekly: Still in a Dream - A Story of Shoegaze". The Arts Desk.
  30. ^ "Dream Pop Genre Overview". AllMusic. Retrieved 30 May 2021.
  31. ^ a b OUMANO, ELENA. "Dream Pop Landscape Is Very Lush". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 29 May 2021.
  32. ^ Moreland, Quinn (14 June 2020). "Mazzy Star: So Tonight That I Might See". Pitchfork.
  33. ^ Reynolds, Simon (2011). Bring the Noise: 20 Years Writing About Hip Rock and Hip Hop. Soft Skull. p. 190.
  34. ^ Reynolds, Simon (1994), "Quique – Seefeel review", Spin
  35. ^ Schilling, Dave (8 April 2015). "That Was a Thing: The Brief History of the Totally Made-Up Chillwave Music Genre". Grantland.com.
  36. ^ Fumo, Dante. "How to Record Dream Pop in Your Home Studio". Reverb. Retrieved 17 July 2021.