Alhough I lamentably cannot claim to have been a fan since the beginning, I have been aware of Ectoplasm Girls' intermittently surfacing bouts of outsider genius long enough to feel like a fool for sleeping on this latest solo album from Nadine Byrne (released last spring). In my defense, it was billed as a soundtrack and I am generally averse to such things, but Dreaming Remembering is quite unlike anything resembling a conventional soundtrack that I have heard. Instead, this album feels like a collection of B-sides from a great synth pop/minimal wave artist, stretching and reshaping their hook-heavy hits into something considerably weirder, more abstract, and subtly hallucinatory. Some pieces are certainly more substantial than others, but the best moments bring an extremely appealing pop sensibility to the synth and experimental music milieu.
This is Byrne‚Äôs second solo release under her own name, following 2014‚Äôs maddeningly out-of-print A Different Gesture (also a soundtrack of sorts).She has also surfaced as The Magic State on a similarly elusive release, but Dreaming Remembering uncharacteristically got a digital release, making it likely to be Byrne's widest reaching solo work to date.It is certainly a solid pick for that honor.Unsurprisingly, the film being soundtracked here is one of Nadine's own, as music is just one facet of an oeuvre that also stretches into video art, textiles, sculpture, photography, and probably several other additional disciplines that I have missed.The album is a bit more substantial than the film itself, which feels like a looping video installation or an interrelated series of music videos (there are three different vignettes set to five of these songs).According to Byrne, both the album and the 19-minute film are intended to "exist in the borderland between memory and dream, drawing their inspiration from that threshold of consciousness where one cannot tell one from the other."In that regard, the album succeeds quite admirably, as the unusual approach to vocals gives these pieces an elusive and fragmented mystery.It is not unlike voyeuristically getting a glimpse of someone's deepest secrets in their diary, but lacking the necessary context to unlock their actual meaning.
Notably, Ectoplasm Girls' earliest work was characterized by an eclectic and computer-averse "anything goes" approach that incorporated samples pregnant with childhood memories, yet Dreaming Remembering feels like the work of a gifted synthesizer artist with sharply honed production skills and a clear vision.While she handles all of the instrumentation herself, Byrne curiously enlisted a guest vocalist (Sarah Kim) for four pieces; primarily the ones that are most heavily based on lyrics/poetry.Neither Kim nor Byrne actually sing at any point on the album, however, as their voices are either devoted to confessional-sounding spoken-word monologues or loops that act like an additional layer of instrumentation.Admittedly, the former probably gives the album its most substantial content and depth (at least conceptually), but Byrne is able to wield something as outwardly vapid as a repeating loop of "Um hmm, ok" to great effect in "Okay."The lion's share of the album's appeal lies primarily in the hypnotically buzzing and throbbing synth loops that Byrne assembles, so the vocals essentially just need to be there to imbue these burbling post-industrial soundscapes with a glimmer of soul and human warmth.The sole exception to that is the album's centerpiece "Mothers and Daughters and Sisters," in which a variation of the title phrase becomes kind of an intensifying and cathartic mantra that eclipses the surrounding music.Aside from the brief and insistently throbbing "Nothing Is Opposite to Forever," the remainder of the album‚Äôs highlights delve into much more vaporous and dreamlike territory, such the warmly ripping reverie of "ATDN."
While "Mothers and Daughters and Sisters" is the album's unquestionable zenith, it is another piece "But You Don't" that best highlights Byrne's endearingly unique and off-kilter sensibilities, favorably reminding me of the obsessive and deranged collages of early Severed Heads without ever crossing the line into feeling derivative. I would have already been delighted by the piece if it were just an endless loop of the syllable "Ehh" over an energetically lurching and clap-based drum machine groove, yet Byrne ingeniously builds on that playfully maniacal foundation with further loops that sound like sped up tapes, as well as a slowed-down snatch of sassy trash-talking.The overall effect is both wonderfully disorienting and gleefully, infectiously ridiculous. To my ears, that direction is where Byrne's true genius lies: making experimental music that feels genuinely experimental, yet deftly evading self-serious artiness with a healthy appreciation for hooks and a strong intuition for wryly mischievous juxtapositions.I wish Byrne had explored her lunatic dance party side more, but this is ostensibly a soundtrack for an art film, so it is a welcome and unexpected treat that such a piece even turned up here at all.As it stands, Dreaming Remembering is a mostly excellent album diluted by a few weaker pieces, but its impressive highlights and the elusiveness of Nadine's other releases combine to make that it the ideal entry point to the work of a wonderfully talented and idiosyncratic artist.