Ambient albums filled with vague fuzz and a general feeling of vacationy happiness (well, it is a word now), are a dime a dozen (probably due to the ubiquity and ease of use of programs such as Garage Band, and other professional synthesizers and sequencers). So, why should we care about Drifter’s Gold, from British Columbia’s Crystal Dorval, better known by her stage name White Poppy? The answer to that is: “Because it’s awesome, and because it will make you feel like you’ve just vacationed in Hawaii, or the general South Pacific area, and because it’s awesomely put together, and because I’m writing a review about it, so shut up.”
As the days are getting shorter, and colder, and more depressing, a healthy dose of well-made dream-pop fuzz music is like a well deserved brain vacation. Released in July of this year, Drifter’s Gold is an euphoric dream-journey through sunshine and warmth that, in my opinion, is an instant classic for the dream-pop genre. So, where does the album excel, and where does it . . . um . . . not excel? Well, read the bloody review, Curious McQuestionpants.
‘Green and Growing’ starts off the album with a background drone and mellifluous guitar work that is sure to send listeners running for a cup of cocoa (or Chianti), and a good book (you guys still read, in-between Tweeting and Facebooking, right?). The track never really goes anywhere, but far from being a detracting factor, that’s kinda the point of the song. You’re not here to be taken on some epic, rock opera journey (we’ll leave that for Green Day and The Who). You’re here to zone out, and to give your ears a break from your daily noise. Shimmering, soaring fuzzbox-leaden swathes of guitar meanderings make for a trippy experience that’s sure to delight.
‘Who Are You’ starts off with what can best be descried as a 1950s radio being tuned, furthering the impression that we’re listening to this album on some beach, off in the southern latitudes (and some old geezer just happened to turn his radio on, a few beach towels down). This track really remind me of Beach House’s 2010 album Teen Dream (another fuzzy classic, that is a must-listen for fans of the dream-pop genre). Chiming guitars and shimmering, choral vocals make this track glide along so smoothly that, by the end you’ll be surprised you’ve spent five minutes and forty seconds listening to it, with nary a single thought going through your neurotic, little brainbox. Descending arpeggiated guitar riffs further serve to heighten the feeling that you’re gently floating through the music.
‘Drifter’s Gold’, the titular track on the album, gives me the amazing feeling of floating, or swimming through some sort of bio-luminescent sea, somewhere in the South Pacific (see Fig.1).
Synth drones in the background create an almost cathedral-like background atmosphere, through which reverberating drips and drops of sound fall, tracing glimmering paths of aural light. The background harmonic drone stays mostly constant throughout the track, however it isn’t just some static canvas. Polytonic, and even slightly dissonant chords slyly insinuate themselves into the background so subtly that you’ll probably miss them if you’re not listening closely. The reverb on this track makes it seem as if the music pulsates like a far-away star, drawing the listener in.
‘When I’m Gone’ is the last track on the album, and oddly enough for an album with no specified “story”, it manages to give us the feeling that we’ve been on a journey with the music, a journey that has come to a close in the brilliant Hawaiian sunrise. Haunting, echoing vocals that interweave and overlap give the impression that some ethereal, otherworldly choir has turned up to send the listener off. Small, and yet poignant, acoustic guitar riffs peeking out here and there from the sonic tapestry, sound at times vaguely reminiscent of Hawaiian slack key guitars, and towards the last third of the song you can hear miniature pinpricks of sound, that call to mind exotic birds, calling to each other through the tropical underbrush. Despite not having any sort of direction, this track gives the listener a feeling of finality, that acts as a perfect counterpoint to ‘Green and Growing’, with which the album opens.
While this album is far from perfect, the little problems that I have with it are more a matter of personal preference, than actual problems. One complaint that I had after listening through the whole album was that it was too short. Don’t get me wrong, the album most definitely has enough material to keep you busy for a good half hour or so, I just wish there was more music to enjoy, especially since Dorval seems to have gotten the hazy, dreamy pop thing down to a T (whatever this ubiquitous T is).
Another small quibble of mine is that the album is a little too uniform (even more so that the other albums where I’ve complained of over-homogeneity). “But Mike,” I hear you splutter, “it’s mood music. It doesn’t have to be varied. It’s just one, long mood.”
To which I answer: Yes, disembodied critic voice, it is, and I understand that, but even a guy as laid back as myself has some fluctuations in mood, and . . . . How the hell did you get into my review anyway?
‘Daydreaming’ seems to noodle around a little too much for my tastes. I thoroughly enjoyed the track, but it seems a little too bland for daydreaming, and sounds more like zonking out (then again, I do have some pretty vivid daydreams, so it might just be me). There was a little element on this track that I really enjoyed, and that I thought worked immensely in the song’s favour. At the very end of the track, the music fades away completely, and you can actually hear White Poppy humming to herself, as though she’s just wandering down the beach, lost in the beautiful music in her head. This ties in excellently to the title of the track, and it almost hoisted it to the “Good” side of this review . . . almost.
‘In the Sun’ comes right after ‘Drifter’s Gold’, and although I loved it, it sounded a little too much like the previous track. It was so unchanged from ‘Gold’ that at first I thought it was the same song that’d had a small stop in the middle. Not that that’s a bad thing, per se, I only think that unless the two tracks were meant to be a sort of “unified, double track”, ‘Sun’ ought to have been a little more varied in terms of tone and mood.
The Verdict – 8.5 (Great)
– Great album that sends your ears and brain on an all expenses paid vacation to sun, surf, and shimmering, sensual, sonic sensations.
– Excellent sampling, mixing and editing make this album go down smoother than 18-year-old scotch.
– Great guitar and vocal work.
– Manages to stand out in a sea of ambient and fuzz albums.
– The album is a little short.
– Some tracks are a little flat (‘Daydreaming’ and ‘In the Sun’)
– Can be a little too homogenous, making the whole album sound almost like one, long track.