Hypnagogic pop is dead. Hypnagogic pop remains dead. And we have killed it.
Paraphrasing Nietzsche is always effective, especially when the perspectivist state of things in music demands a reconsideration of facts and the search for novel vantage points; in the farthest contours of the musical topography, all that is solid melts into vapor, as pop (re)discovers some sort of New Age of (counter-)Enlightenment. But what about hypnagogia, then? Is it still a point of reference, a distinctive landmark guiding through the hazy music panorama? The “hypnagogic pop” label was certainly necessary (and probably sufficient) a few years ago in order to account for several music manifestations that symbolically presented oneiric depictions of a fragmented memory, sonic recollections in which the suspension of judgment established a nonaligned, apolitical region; besides its aesthetic values, it was an adequate allegory for the way history is being written in hyper-mediated societies. But have the magnetic tape acoustic qualities, the 80s FM-synth-based soundtracks, the slippery guitars, shady vocals, and the underdone production turned into institutionalized conventions, homogenizing the otherwise marginal sound of this movement? Has the phosphenic imagery become too concrete to be held as an abstruse evocation any longer? Has hypnagogia succumbed under its own weightlessness? “What festivals of atonement, what sacred games will we need to invent?”
Hypnagogia, as a transitional state, retains an elusive and ephemeral nature, prompted by the awareness that the dreaming condition must end at one point. Thus, continuing that uncertain parasomniac analogy (and under the contradictory idea that musical genres are seldom the creation of musicians), hypnopompic pop might appear — not as evolution or continuation but as a fitting dialectic response: a different sleep cognition in which the sense of the hallucinations originate in another fuzzy region, where the irrational struggles to come to terms with a sensory reality. Jared’s Lot, Gary War’s third album, proposes some radical changes that position him in direct negation of the hypnagogic method (widely employed in his first two albums and the 2010’s Police Water EP, but already neglected in his side project Human Teenager), arising therefore as a good candidate to help define the hypnopompic spectrum: The lo-fi ethics are completely abandoned for a deranged commitment to an exhausting, over-produced sound, full of pristine, baroque electronic ornaments and omnipresent, unintelligible vocals; instead of childhood memories filtered through subconscious magnetic devices, there is a machinery of exteroceptive stimulation that provokes mental impairment in an altered universe; in place of a hypnotic, free-association drift, we get a cerebral, prog-influenced schema, with complex chord structures rushing and fractionating the sonic continuity; instead of a lethargic corporeal response, there are plenty of hypnic jerks, convulsed body reactions to sleep inertia, induced by the claustrophobic layers of sound. The 8-bit fixation present throughout the album reframes the videogame metaphor, going beyond the mental persistence of anamnestic images: chiptuned music accompanying side-scrolling landscapes through eight different acid mazes, with inner forms and harmonies constantly mutating at every bifurcation, while the outer timbral shell remains unchanged, as if perpetually revisiting a familiar world vanquished by aliens.
The extended — and sometimes excessive — manipulation of the voice (a characteristic that has also been linked to the post-hypnagogic dominion) facilitates the exposure of all its dark and obscene qualities. Indeed, Gary War’s transhuman voice enacts some archetypal figures predominantly emanating from the Jungian Shadow — a (mostly) negative projection of the unconscious self — such as the incubus, a threatening aggressive entity (the menacing commands in “Pleading for Annihilation”); the intruder, a sensed presence that cannot be clearly identified or even shaped (as in the amorphous and disjointed subject in “Advancements in Disgust”); or the malignant narcissist of electropop-powered closer “Muscle Dysmorphia.” The sleep-offset anticipated by hypnopomp is a traumatic experience, a rupture between the comfortable delusion of the dream and the desolate harshness of reality. Jared’s Lot is closer to the latter, announcing a dystopian glance at the near future but always grounded in reality. The senses are reacting, the dream is almost over. Hypnagogic pop is dead. Hypnagogic pop remains dead. Let’s move on.