(Otherworldly Mystics, 2014)
Boston’s Rachel Thomasin lists “singer/songwriter” in her bio, and I’m immediately skeptical. What sort of milquetoast coffeehouse hell is about to be unleashed upon my eardrums? Well calm down, stupid – this is no pretentious acoustic hipster we’re talking about here. Immediately upon pressing play on the title track, I’m greeted to processed backmasked guitar and keyboard chordage, the entry point to a spectacular dream pop composition that fills my mind with swirls of color and hooks me its indelible melody. If you pay attention to anything I say – and if you’re reading me, you know I’m always right, or you at least agree that I give perpetually good advice – forget any hesitation the term “singer/songwriter” may engender and dive into Outlines, Thomasin’s 7-song EP released on cassette via Otherworldly Mystics.
Thomasin also uses “musician” and “producer” in her credits, and that’s helpful to know as well. She straddles the gap between synth pop and ambient seamlessly (as if there are that many seams in a synth pop/ambient bridge), and it’s clear that she’s as comfortable behind the boards as she is behind the mic. There’s a cut-and-paste approach to some of these tracks that pushes them beyond pop curiosities to well-defined artistic statements, as on the aforementioned “Outlines” and “Patterns,” where on the latter Thomasin’s vocals are shredded into tiny pieces in production and recomposed into a defining phrase. It’s the unusual compositional building blocks that keep the attention riveted to what Thomasin’s going to do next.
But the tone and mood are equally critical to the success of Outlines – Thomasin’s got brains and heart! I was a huge Enya and Clannad fan as a kid (WTF, I know), so I feel a bit of nostalgia whenever Thomasin blurs the line between synth pop and ethereality in such a way that there’s an out-of-focus glimmer of the Emerald Isle’s wilder parts that hover at the edge of my imagination. In particular, “A Memory,” while fully emerged as a synth-driven pop tune, has that softness or that mystical nature that dredges up a specific nostalgia. It is, in truth, literally a memory for me. And while I’m not really suggesting that Thomasin sounds like either of these acts (and the acts are literally related by blood!), there shouldn’t be any hesitation toward embracing the stylistic kinship. Perhaps a more contemporary comparison would be if Grouper decided to not simply drift along in her (admittedly gorgeous) chasms – think “Alien Observer” with beats.
Let’s set the record straight – I’m not lumping Thomasin in with the Pure Moods crowd. Her music is propulsive, but not pushy. And things get downright otherworldly on cuts like “Magic Light” and “Return,” both of which recall releases by synth-patch nostalgist/revivalist labels like Olde English Spelling Bee and Crash Symbols. Imagine if James Ferraro circa Far Side Virtual enlisted Juliana Barwick to swoon over his plastic Pro Tools bubblescapes and you’re getting close. But unlike musicians who dabble in vaporwave, Thomasin’s retained a sense of fun rather than subjected these songs to a sterile nu-MOMA treatment – nostalgic futurism as high art Outlines certainly is not. Perhaps to underscore this, the tape ends with “Who Can See,” a strummed dream pop/shoegaze number haunted by the specters of both Medicine and Lush – this song could close any album by either band and sound perfectly in place.
And hey, look! I’ve now used the words “otherworldly” and “mystical” in this review – looks like Thomasin’s found the right record label… (and yes, I did that on purpose). Outlines nicely and equally hits sweet pop spots and savory experimentalism, and loses no flavor in transition. Well played, Thomasin – well played indeed.
RIYL: Victoria and Jacob, Tom Kitty Oliver, Teeel