The Holydrug Couple Moonlust

[Sacred Bones; 2015]

Styles: dream pop, psych, synth rock, krautrock
Others: Air, Serge Gainsbourg, Galaxie 500, Los Encargados, Virus

If dream pop tells us one thing about dreams themselves, it’s that they’re not really about wanting something. Be they of the sleeping or waking variety, they might flirt with some distant object of desire, but like The Holydrug Couple, they always refuse to behold this object with any definition or clarity, and they shrink away from all concerted plans to obtain it. Moonlust, the Chilean duo’s sophomore album, is a perfect example of this evasiveness. It sheds their debut’s pastoral psych for a spacey romanticism, and in the process, its airy synthesizers and reverb’d guitars evoke a yearning that’s too vague and indeterminate to be a yearning for anything in particular. They float around and around in hazy circles of melancholia, and they melt into self-contained pop narcotics, but in the end it becomes apparent that their diffuse looping serves only to avoid facing up to the illusory nature of the object they claim to pursue.

In other words, Moonlust and the kind of dream pop it represents are more about blurring their desires than about realizing them. Songs like “Atlantic Postcard” and “Dreamy” drape themselves in synth arpeggios and watery chords that eschew sharpness, texture and body, that remain softly focused and vapory for the duration. It’s tempting to suppose that their dilution and thinness is intended to complement the “feeling [of] lust, desire, for something that you see when it’s dark but it’s so far away that it’s unreachable.” Yet pace frontman Ives Sepúlveda, it’s arguable that the instrumental haziness and vagueness they hide behind — their avoidance of solid edges, pointed contours, and hard surfaces — does not represent an unreachable object so much as prevent us from experiencing things clearly enough to realize that this unreachable object isn’t even there.

This aversion to confronting the unreality of one’s (objects of) desire translates itself into the disembodied keys and smoothed fuzz of “French Movie Theme,” as well as the echoing vocal trails of “If I Could Find You (Eternity).” Nowhere on the album is this penchant for wet, ethereal timbres contradicted, and even the more brittle tones of the percussion have their substantiality and concreteness undermined by the fact that they’re delivered by a drum machine.

As a consequence, reveries like the astronautic “Generique Noir” and the blissfully washed-out “Concorde” remind us that dreaming is not the process of moving closer to what we really want, but moving further away from it. It’s an often intentional means of inserting misperception, distortion, and ambiguity into our wants, so as to preserve us from the trauma of recognizing them and the worldview supporting them for the flimsy nonsense they truly are. To that extent, such warm blasts of drowsiness as the 1980s-tinged “U Don’t Wake Up” allow us to continue mistaking confused flights of fancy for coherent ideas of how we’re actually going to improve our lives.

Insofar as dreams consist in unclear, imprecise, and unexamined perceptions, they describe a large category of 21st-century thought and action, from the blinkered racism of the nationalist bigot to the political ideology that blinds him to the real origin of his country’s problems. In fact, dreaming and ideology are often one and the same thing, in that both are characterized by an unwillingness to contemplate anything but a highly adulterated or disfigured version of reality.

Even though there’s nothing overtly ideological about Moonlust, it nonetheless presents evidence of this strain of unwillingness in the sleepy “I Don’t Feel Like It.” Here, synthesized minor chords and a maudlin bass line provide the bleary mise-en-scène for Sepúlveda, who reveals a case of world-phobia when he sings, “I don’t feel like to go [sic] out today.” It’s through this line that the album’s “dreaminess” is explained, revealing as it does the tiredness, fear, dissatisfaction, and futility that compels so many of us to turn away from the world. Escaping its harshness and complexity in the starry, nocturnal melodies of “I Don’t Feel Like It,” we look to a set of idealized and phantasmal images that are so comforting precisely because they’re too dim and uncertain to be falsifiable, and because they don’t oblige us to make an effort that might result in yet another failure.

And speaking of failures, it’s worth concluding with the declaration that Moonlust certainly isn’t one. Sure, it has obvious debts to French pop from Gainsbourg to Air, and to dream pop from Cocteau Twins to Galaxie 500, but its amalgam of the two is both distinctive and disarming enough to overcome any charges that it might be a little derivative or cloying in places. It offers pretty much every gauzy riff, distant vocal, and obscure object of desire that could be wanted from a dream pop album. However, let’s just hope that, in a time of austerity, declining mental health, and increasing rates in family breakdown, its soothing condolences won’t divert us too long from what we fundamentally want and need.

Links: The Holydrug Couple - Sacred Bones

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