Last month, New Hampshire-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Andrea Levesque unveiled her latest EP, See The Hue, under the name Atlantic Canyons. Recorded with session musicians who Levesque met in online chatrooms, the project is a collection of creepily enchanting psalms with rippling synths on tracks like “Sorry,” and “At Sea,” as well as cavernous string-layered soundscapes and lyrics that unravel Levesque’s personal trauma throughout the EP. “Breathing’s easier underneath the surface/Rushing waves fall, soaked in endless sky,” she desperately trills on the titular track.
“[See The Hue] bears witness to feelings of fear and loneliness, and there is catharsis in acknowledging unpleasant emotions,” Levesque reveals. “By allowing myself the freedom to experience these feelings without judgment, I became unburdened by them.”
Shortly after its release, the project rapidly took the #1 spot for most EP adds on the North American College & Community Radio Charts, and it’s easy to see why. Not many recent dreampop projects I’ve heard pack the same punch as See The Hue. The project is incredibly dynamic and all-encompassing, combining elements of trip hop, dreampop, and shoegaze. On no track is this more evident than “One More Minute,” with its rumbling tribal drum patterns and echoing guitars coupled with Levesque’s ethereal vocal melodies. “Everybody’s moved on/With the exception of you and me,” she urgently croons on the track.
“Haunted World,” opens with a menacing gothic organ wheeze that calls to mind The Marble Index and Desertshore-era Nico. Levesque’s breathy vocals emulate the likes of Portishead and Curve, with static drum-machine patterns that eventually build to a heady climax with skull-shattering bass breaks. I wouldn’t be surprised if the sound engineer had dismantled the entire soundboard and jammed a screwdriver inside while it was plugged in to achieve that impact.
The overall sound of See The Hue captures the state of Levesque steering a ship that is lost at sea in a hurricane. The final track, “Life At the Top,” which includes soulful guest vocals and playful ad-libs from Star Smash, offers a sense of humility and a state of calm after the worst of the storm has passed, clearing a path in the sky for Levesque to see the fractals of a glittering sunset reflected in the murky waters, yet wary of the storms yet to come.
Taking her name from the children’s book, The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle by Beatrix Potter and a fell of mountains in the Lake District of England, dreampop singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Catbells invites her audience to immerse themselves in her wistful world of mature introspection and childlike wonder. This was on full display with her first single, “Fade (Rainy Day Demo),” which juxtaposed the melancholy fatigue of heartbreak against sullen detachment with velvety-smooth vocals and lush instrumental soundscapes.
On her newest single, “It’s Not Hard,” Catbells delves into the deepest recesses of human emotion to explore the pensive nature of escapism, comparing her life decisions to boarding a flight; once you’re on the plane, there’s no getting off of it.
I was fortunate enough to chat with Catbells about how the song came to fruition, utilizing her mysterious aura to keep the focus on her art, and finding solace in her childhood memories of New England.
What was the biggest thing that gravitated you to the dreampop/shoegaze space?
I have always loved music that makes you feel something, a feeling of nostalgia or something familiar that brings back memories. Dreampop and Shoegaze are both genres that put a listener into another world and really overtake the senses.
I’ve always loved when artists build a mystique around their persona and output, and I was wondering what made you decide to take a similar route as Catbells?
The mask and Catbells kind of found me, I can’t say I had great foresight or a plan into things. But the name Catbells really resonated with me when I first heard it as a name of a beautiful mountain in the Lake District of England. And then honestly I just felt that the cat mask would give me the artistic freedom I was longing for… I have always loved when an artist is an artist for arts sake, where the focus lies on the art they are making rather than focused on themselves as a person. I have loved too when artists and musicians transform into something that becomes art in itself, like Bowie as Ziggy Stardust, or the amazing magnetism and mystery of Orville Peck, or the creative cartoon genius of the Gorillaz. And it’s a lot of fun too!
When is the earliest you can recall having an inkling of wanting to pursue a career in music?
Music as a career was never my focus, music as a life choice is more the way it is, I am not sure I can say it is a career in the sense of a job, but more so a life path and just a part of who I am. And that probably was something that was there as a young child and just took time to develop.
How did “It’s Not Hard” first come to you and what was the creation process like from there?
Many songs come to me in the form of one phrase or lyric and then build from there. “It’s Not Hard” started with the verse and the memory of a strong urge I had once sitting on the runway with the plane moments from taking off… in that moment being trapped, unable to turn back, no longer able to get off, no longer having any control, not wanting to go where I was going, but also not wanting to go back to where I’d come from… and seeing the rain pouring down outside the window and wanting nothing more than to literally break out the window and go lie in the rain and be free from it all… But ultimately the plane started rolling and then it took off and that was that. And that is how the song came to be.
What is one record that never fails to alleviate frustration and angst for you?
I think Split by Lush is a record I could listen to over and over when I am feeling that way.
I read that your vocal stylings and sound were inspired by the likes of Hope Sandoval and Nico. Would you like to tell me a little more about what they mean to you, and any other musicians that you really look at as pioneers?
Hope Sandoval brings goosebumps when I hear her voice, she has such a calmness and sadness when she sings, and well. Nico brings a sullen yet matter of fact almost emotionless or numbness tone to her vocals that really makes me stop in my tracks whenever I hear her voice. I also love, like I mentioned above, Lush and the harmonies between Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson. And lately I have been listening to lots of Portishead and just enamored with Beth Gibbons’ voice.
Something we have in common is we’re both New England kids. I was wondering how your songwriting has allowed you to reflect on your childhood hometown memories and how that has been beneficial to you?
Ah New England is such a special place!!! I think being from a place so amazing, with all the seasons and the scents and images that go along with each of them, makes feelings like nostalgia and longing something easier to tap into when I am writing. Thinking about the way the air feels there, and how the trees look, or the smell of the first snow about to fall, or the muddy fields after it rains, all of that really fuels my lyrics. Every month has its own special characteristics that feed the senses. I miss it terribly.
When people think of music scenes that originated in the ’90s, the ones that often come to mind are the boisterous and upfront alternative rock umbrellas known as britpop and grunge. But one specific genre that often gets overlooked is the wistfully psychedelic-infused effervescence known as dream pop, which usually overlaps with the effect-driven, droning sounds of shoegaze.
Dream pop, known for its faded vocals and gliding instrumentals, provided a tranquil alternative to the posturing male aggression that became synonymous with later alternative rock and post-grunge. My favorite dream pop records are the ones that concoct a sonic atmosphere that floats in between the states of sleeping and waking.
These are my eight essential dream pop records that I would recommend to all listeners.
Cocteau Twins – Garlands
No band captures the essence of dreams better than the Cocteau Twins. Their most popular records, Blue Bell Knoll and Heaven Or Las Vegas, had Liz Fraser’s signature operatic vocals overlapping with Robin Guthrie’s elaborate and effect-laden guitar loops. But I always appreciate hearing her voice when it’s more upfront than the instruments. The title track, “Garlands,” showcases Fraser’s dreamy vocal abilities at the forefront fully and clearly.
2. Mazzy Star – She Hangs Brightly
Whenever I hear Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star’s hypnotic vocals, I always feel like I’m being transported to an alternate universe or practicing witchcraft in the backwoods of my home town. The infectious psych/garage-esque track “Ghost Highway,” and the intervals and sliding guitar manipulation on songs like “She Hangs Brightly,” and “I’m Sailin'” are equally as captivating as Sandoval’s crooning voice. And the harmonic strings and organs throughout the record are just as intoxicating.
3. Mojave 3 – Ask Me Tomorrow
Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead of the popular shoegaze band, Slowdive, reformed as Mojave 3 in 1995 alongside Ian McCutcheon, Simon Rowe, and Alan Forrester. Their debut record, Ask Me Tomorrow, conjures up a dreamy, melancholic haze.
The album is riddled with sweeping harmonies and lazy-slide guitar leads on tracks like “Love Songs on The Radio” and “Tomorrow’s Taken.” An incredible highlight of the sound change is having Goswell’s gorgeous vocals at the forefront of multiple songs, no longer obscured by effects or distortion like they were on Slowdive records.
4. Julee Cruise – Floating Into The Night
You may know Julee Cruise as the singer who provided the gloomy and airy soundtrack to the David Lynch series, Twin Peaks. Her entire discography is worth getting lost in, but her critically-acclaimed 1989 debut, Floating Into The Night, is undoubtedly her magnum opus. With gliding instrumentals and Cruise’s ethereal vocal performance on songs like “Falling,” “Floating,” and “The Nightingale,” the album really lives up to its name, putting listeners in a state of floating around in weightless bliss.
5. A.R. Kane – 69
While many people look to The Cocteau Twins and The Jesus and Mary Chain as the arbiters of dream pop and shoegaze, A.R. Kane are largely considered to be the unsung heroes that launched dream pop into a proper movement. The duo, made up of Alex Ayuli and Rudy Tambala, released their debut album, 69, in 1988. With heavy feedback and dubs on songs like, “Baby Milk Snatcher,” the album blends elements of dream pop, psych rock, funk, and even post-punk. Their following record, i, is also worth checking out.
6. Lush – Gala
Before My Bloody Valentine, Chapterhouse, and Slowdive, the band Lush was at the forefront of early shoegaze and dream pop soundscapes. Gala is a combination of the band’s first three EPs. Critic Andy Kellman described them as able “to veer from violent and edgy noise breaks to pop effervescence.”
The cracked soprano vocals from front-woman Miki Berenyi are largely obscured by echoing guitar feedback on the slower dreampop cuts like “Sunbathing,” and “Scarlet.” But on more aggressive rock songs like “Bitter,” she’s much more upfront with her delivery, which stands in stark contrast to her more restrained approach to singing on lighter cuts. The lo-fi production is another massive part of the record’s charm.
7. Galaxie 500 – Today
Galaxie 500’s mystical debut, Today, is one of my all-time favorite slowcore albums. Each song, especially the dreamy opener, “Flowers,” and the fuzzed-out “Tugboat,” remain sonically grounded with Dean Wareham’s upper-register vocals completely gliding across his lilting guitar leads and Naomi Yang’s textured basslines, all of which are soaking in reverb.
8. Broadcast – Tender Buttons
What is so remarkable about this particular Broadcast album is the fact that it was made after the departure of several band members, leaving only vocalist Trish Keenan and bassist James Cargill to work as a duo. But that didn’t stop them from making their most iconic record of all time.
Blending elements of psych pop, avant pop, and experimental space age electronica, Tender Buttons hits every nerve with static shock, drum machines, and crunchy synths on tracks like “I Found The F,” and “Corporeal.” The non-conventional instrumentation beautifully blends with Keenan’s serene vocals. It is also very difficult not to weep whenever the languid ballad “Tears In The Typing Pool” plays.