In the prologue to I’ll Take You There: Pop Music & The Urge for Transcendence, author Bill Friskics-Warren notes that he is interested in “those articulations of the urge for transcendence that have found their way into the popular zeitgeist without recourse to dogmatic or sectarian agendas.” He mentions both lyrics and music in his book, but I love the sound much more. And Chris North’s Lovedream, the first great album I’ve heard in 2012, offers up some incredibly transcendent sound.
Chris North, whose previous release under his own name I reviewed a few months ago, is not trying to fool anyone: there are a ton of people who will christen this dream-pop, nod at the name, and move on. But there’s more to Lovedream than just the back half of the name. The album fully encompasses its moniker: these aren’t coyly affectionate songs, these are jubilant hymns to the ecstatic, revelatory state of love. At its best, the modern conception of love feels like a utopian dream: this 11-track gem is the soundtrack to that delirious mutual infatuation. And if these songs appropriate sounds that are traditionally associated with heavenly arias, all the better.
North uses acoustic guitar as the base instrument for his dream-pop, using reverb, stacking and treble-boosting pedals/effects (I’m guessing on the last one) to turn these songs into soaring, jubilant paeans. The fact that he’s creating a musical interpretation of bliss while singing ostensibly sad things (“500 Miles,” “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean”) just confirms the transcendent power of the arrangements.
And these aren’t pristine pieces; that would take away from their effect. The strings and background vocals provide wonderful heft to the tunes, but are often wild and unkempt. There are instrumental parts that sound like mistakes. North’s low voice is captured as it is, not as some auto-tuner would make it. But these things only contribute to the sound: the album feels raw, ragged and real, even as it sounds completely otherworldly. “Indian Love Call” is a swirling instrumental piece, while “The Old Door” is a pop song with a melody that feels pulled from a hymnal. “The Road to Yesterday” is what bluegrass sounds like on the way up there, and “Stay Cool” features a great bass/drums groove. This is the sound of current “indie,” filtered through golden waves of light.
The major coup of Chris North’s Lovedream is not that it sounds dreamy; a lot of bands can do that. Instead, it sounds like more than a dream: this gives a form and a weight to the yearning for a greater, more beautiful plane of existence. Whether that’s a goal to be achieved in this life, the next or both, Lovedream is a reminder to those listening of what transcendence they seek. For me, it sounds like a high-up window letting in sounds from heaven which inspires reverence now.