One of the most daunting tasks any artist can take on is making a piece of art that is dreamlike. Dreams are peculiar, on one hand they are a fantastical series of events that could never happen in real life. Yet on the other hand they have to be grounded somewhat in reality, for it to be believable to the dreamer. Ever since Freud’s seminal work Interpretations of Dreams. Artists from nearly every field have been trying to replicate the theories found in that book, into their own artform.
Yet many miss the mark. If you look at a Salvador Dali painting, you aren’t thinking, “Yeah, this is definitely like one of my dreams,” unless you’re a crazy person or Salvador Dali himself. The only medium to get it well done is film. And the artist who succeeds in this far beyond any other filmmaker would be David Lynch. Specifically his film Mulholland Drive.
Now why do I include this particular scene in a review of an ambient, acoustic singer-songwriter album? Well first we have to break this scene down. In the very beginning the scene is filmed so realistically. There aren’t any filters, music, abstract imagery, everything is within the bounds of reality. In fact if you were to mute it, or change the script this could very well be just a scene about two guys talking over lunch. It’s not until throughout the course of dialogue that you realize this underlying tension in the scene.
The dialogue is incredibly strange. A man is going to a restaurant because he had a dream about it? Then as he describes the dream in these abstract terms, “It’s not day or night, it’s kind of half night you know?” Then the tension begins to build, as parts of his dream are coming true. The atonal music begins to build up, and then you see it. That face. The face that made him come to this Winkie’s in the first place. It’s then where the dreamlike world and reality converge. Where the scene seems less like a guy trying to resolve his bad dreams, and more like the nightmare that was described.
So why bring this up? Well like David Lynch Palavas understands how to capture that dreamlike feeling far better than the majority of musicians who aim for that lofty goal. After all Film has more tools at it’s disposal, it has visuals, it has dialogue, it has ambient noise, it has music, etc. All of these tools are being used perfectly in David Lynch’s Mullholland Drive. Yet Palavas only has his vocals, strings, guitars, some samples, and a synth. But somehow in spite of the clear disadvantage, he somehow creates an album that achieves the exact same effect as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. So now we have to figure out how he does it.
Right off the bat with Eyelids we’re introduced to this airy flute. It’s so realistic, and sounds so organic. So much so that when you’re listening to it with headphones, you could swear that you are hearing it right next to your ears. In fact every instrument sounds so organic, stripped down, and at times lo-fi that you become conscious of the instrumentation.
What I mean by that is, whenever you try to focus on a dream you had, or one that was particularly vivid. You always remember how real it felt you can probably remember how nearly every one of your 5 senses was in overdrive. If you’re in water in your dream, you remember the chill you felt as your body entered the water. If you’re running in your dream, you remember breathing in that fire as you’re gasping for air. It’s all of those details that makes those dreams all the more surprising for you. Which makes it all the more surprising to wake up, and slowly realize that all of those hyper realistic moments in the dreamworld were in fact a dream.
So if the instrumentation seems incredibly organic and fleshed out, then how does Palavas invoke that dreamlike feeling? Well he accomplishes this with his vocals. Which is so bizarre and so daunting of a task. If you were to give any other musician the task of making a dream-like soundscape, nearly every musician would find bizarre instruments, drenched in reverb, atonal sounding, and then sing the song as normally as possible. That would be the go to solution for nearly every artist.
Yet Palavas is not your normal artist. His vocals have this ethereal nature to it, which is difficult in itself to accomplish. Even when the instrumentation is just limited to guitar playing tracks like, Oh Well, In Between, Numb And Blind, You Lose And I Lose, Understand, Real, and You’re So Violent. It still maintains that dreamlike quality, and it’s not from the acoustic guitar playing. If you don’t believe me, try to play an acoustic guitar that sounds dreamlike. Then once you figure out that it’s nearly impossible then you’ll understand how much his vocals carry this album.
I know what you’re thinking, “Well it’s only because Palavas puts his vocals through some sort of effects, and that’s how he does it.” And I would have supported that theory, until I heard You’re So Violent. Which is so stripped down and bare, that it’s shocking to any modern listener to hear. We’re all so used to that slick production polish, that when any song doesn’t have it we’re immediately taken aback. Then add that to the fact that the track still retains that dreamlike quality. It’s at that moment when you understand how talented Palavas is.
Then as mentioned as before, while the instrumentation firmly grounds every track in reality, Palavas also uses ambient noise. The ambient noise is so realistic that it feels like a field recording. Tracks like Real which has that ambient soundscape. Where it sounds like he’s playing in bedroom while children play outside, there’s shuffling around the room, you can even hear rustling of clothes as he re-positions himself. Most “producers” would be ripping their hair out if they heard any of that ambience in their slick DAW processed music. Yet Palavas uses it to his advantage. After all for a dream to be vivid it has to be grounded in reality.
Then there’s the tracks he uses samples for. Take Snow for instance, a song that has that hyper-specific sound of walking in a foot of snow. That unique kind of sound that can only be identified by somebody who has actually walked in snow can recognize. Then the string section propels this trek in the snow, to this feeling of wonderment. That unique and singular feeling of seeing the first fall of snow in the winter. While, yes the instrumentation and vocals do an excellent job of conveying wonderment. It’s the sample of walking in snow that really seals the deal, and provides such an excellent soundscape for a track aptly named Snow. Which for an album released in a scorching summer, is an absolute joy to listen to.
So now that I’ve tackled the ambient sounds, the vocals, and samples that are used in this album. Now it’s time to get to the actual music–more specifically the instrumentation. Like I’ve mentioned earlier, throughout this album there is an incredible organic arrangement of instruments. Whether it’s the beautiful string section in Good that provides this melancholy wistfulness, or the incredibly well produced guitar Oh Well, In Between that calls back some of the greatest guitar parts in The Smiths. Nearly every track has this incredible instrumentation that is so well produced, so perfected, and achieves such a pinpoint accurate emotional response that it’s no surprise that an author made this album.
To see what I mean, we have to look at Vladmir Nabokov one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. And in particular a story of when he was once approached by one of his students. The student wanted to be a writer, and this anecdote in particular that illustrates how Palavas is able to be so detailed in his soundscape.
Nabokov looks up from his reading he points to a tree outside his office window. ‘What kind of tree is that?’ he asks the student. ‘What?’ ‘What is the name of that tree?’ asks Nabokov. ‘The one outside my window.’ ‘I don’t know,’says the student. ‘You’ll never be a writer.’ says Nabokov.
When writing a book, unlike any other medium, you are not limited in your creativity. If you want to create gargantuan beast, the size of a planet with 10 heads, a body made up of spaghetti, and can turn people into ravioli by singing Frank Sinatra. You can write it. The problem lies in how to communicate that to your readers. Great writers like Tolstory, and Hemingway are experts in using details. Whether it’s a Princess’ quivering downy lip, or the stripped down story of 6 words. A great author is capable of convey complex emotions through his/her use of detail.
Likewise with nearly every instrumental on this album. Everything is produced so well, and each track creates a unique subtle emotional effect. Whether it’s the lack of instrumentation, the tracks that are well produced, how everything is mixed, etc. Every single track fits together so well, like this incredibly complex puzzle where if one piece were to be missing would distort the entire image.
All of this to create a unique dreamworld, something that seems so vividly real. Yet it wouldn’t be a dream, if you didn’t wake up. Up until Yourself, I would describe the dream world of this album to be a pleasant one. One that is emotional, vulnerable, and maybe even nostalgic. Yet it’s one that is incredibly cathartic. Something like resolving some deep seated neurosis in a dream, and waking up refreshed in the morning. Yet it’s in Yourself, that waking up proves to be far worse than being asleep.
Which is why Mullholland Drive is the perfect analogy to this album. The whole entire movie at points is unsettling, it is creepy at times, yet when our protagonist Betty, gets off the plane to L.A. and succeeds in being an actress. There’s this glamour throughout the film. That adolescent dream of getting exposed, and having your art displayed to the masses. Where you show up where you need to be, and everybody immediately recognizes your talent. Then the second half is ugly, that studio polish is removed. The film becomes harsh. Our protagonist isn’t successful in her acting career, personal life, and she isn’t even Betty, her name is Diane. Even the nightmare sequences of the first act, aren’t even remotely as unsettling as the reality we’re presented with.
So with Yourself a song that is so atonal, so unsettling, so harsh, so distorted, that it’s when we wake up from the dream. And with a title of Yourself Palavas shows us that it’s not a nightmare that’s terrifying, it’s our reality that’s terrifying. After all, it’s a common trope in horror movies to say, “This is something out of a nightmare,” when presented with some unfathomable horror. Yet Palavas says to us, “This is something out of my real life,” which makes it all the more existentially terrifying.
The fact that I am able to draw so many comparison’s to other mediums should stand as a testament to how well crafted this album is. After all every artistic medium has it’s shortcomings. For example it’s incredibly difficult to create an atmosphere with a painting the same way you can with video games, music, or movies. Likewise you cannot get as indepth into an individual’s psychology in film as you can in a book. Or you can’t recreate an event as well as you can in music; as you can in a painting, movie, or video games. Yet somehow Palavas somehow manages to do this with pinpoint accuracy.
So with that being said, I would be a fool to not give this album my recc. It is so incredibly well thought out and so well made. His vision is so complete and so concrete that it is nothing short of a miracle that he was able to accomplish in music, what other artists in other mediums struggle to accomplish. Even when they have better tools at their disposal. So please give this album a listen I will guarantee that you will love it.