White Poppy Natural Phenomena

[Not Not Fun; 2015]

Styles: shoegaze, drone
Others: Slowdive, Durutti Column, July Skies, The Slaves, Noveller

How do you grapple with something that isn’t there? On her third full-length as White Poppy, Natural Phenomena, Crystal Dorval manages to erase almost all traces of herself. Her voice disappears into the ether with lyrics that are mostly indiscernible — when there are any at all. The attack of her guitar is blunted and nearly bleached out of existence in reverb and delay systems. And the minimal percussion employed tends to feel more like a kite bobbing along at the end of a tether than anything solid and grounding. To this end, Natural Phenomena reads like further notes on a musical history of disappearance and obfuscation. Roughly one third of the album is made up of lyrically-oriented songs, another third contains wordless vocalizing, and the remaining third is entirely instrumental. Because they aren’t divided up into sections as such, it gives a sort of watercolor impression of songs half submerged.

The album plays on a rich continuum, with a bass line reminiscent of Blondie’s “Tide Is High” and a guitar melody that recalls The Cure. But the song, “Confusion,” is something of a red herring: it leaves the listener with a glimpse of something tangible in the album’s opening moments, but it trails off into foggy ethereality and an occasional tropical ambience. “Exotic Realms” shamelessly mimics the guitar part from Slowdive’s “Crazy For You,” and in fact large sections of Natural Phenomena are reminiscent of Pygmalion (and maybe more specifically the bootlegged demos for that album). But even Pygmalion, with its electronic textures and lunar drift, had a graspable emotional core. Here, it’s nigh impossible to tell what sentiment Dorval is trying to express, and the song titles do little to create more than vague notions. Meanwhile, the fractals of her sunbaked guitar loops splay out toward an infinite horizon. To paraphrase Robert DeNiro in Goodfellas: “It gives you nothing, so you’ve got nothing.”

The most critical thing that can be said of it, for better and for worse, is it’s often just another achingly gorgeous example of dreamy music onto which you can project yourself. But my impression is that this is the best White Poppy album so far. Although it superficially resembles both her previous self-titled album and Drifter’s Gold enough that I even notched in the same score that our own DeForrest Brown Jr. gave her last time, it seems distilled to a more perfect essence. The listener’s own impression of Natural Phenomena may likely hinge on the acceptance of Dorval’s techniques or the rejection of them as it trends toward listlessness for those less forgiving in their judgment. But for those of us who have spent time hearing our reflections in other albums of its ilk, White Poppy rewards us again, very slowly yet with plenty of riches.

Links: White Poppy - Not Not Fun

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