Spotlight | Croatia - Half Dreams
Half Dreams- Croatia, 2018
“Reality is for those who cannot maintain the dream.” Or so says neo-Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek.
Q: So then, what about the half-dream?
A: Croatia's Half Dreams is a triumphantly catchy electro-pop record concerned with disassociation on a number of levels. Disassociation from one's self; from relationships and social-scenes, even from past musical projects. But it's hardly a morbid affair! Not at all. This disassociation is liberating too. There are more than enough synth-hooks and falsetto flips and upbeat tempos herein to keep even the most keen of psycho-analytic rain-makers at bay. The record is just as concerned with the pinch-myself-am-I-dreaming state of mind that accompanies life-affirming moments. Let's unpack.
A: Half Dreams follows 2016's I Wish I Could Be Holy by nearly two years. A lot has changed for the band in that time: Two members have been added, percussion programmer Ben Erikson and vocalist Justin Campbell, the latter of which replaced the departing Tashiina Buswa. Remaining members Matt Dell and Steve Mitchell are the through-line from the group's earlier recordings up to Half Dreams. The duo work together seamlessly, to the point where it's difficult to tell where Dell's synth plots end and Mitchell's guitar and keyboard slices begin. It's firmly in the realm of electro-pop, but where many others in the genre opt for a clear division between instruments and roles, Croatia are adept in blending and shading, the building and breaking of momentum. This cohesion of sound also applies to the songwriting itself; the five songs here are varied tonally and tempo-wise, but they're also clearly the work of a band who is aware of their niche and is confident mining it.
The caffeinated 'Better Love' kicks off the record with a machinated punch, drums equal parts trip-hop and Tobacco. The pre-chorus veers briefly into chill-wave territory to let the refrain, “Tell me 'bout your better love”, marinate in a relaxed swirl like a sunset beam caught in a pre-taxi martini, before launching into the C.R. Jepson-esque chorus. Send a letter to who now? Title-track 'Half Dreams' follows, the oldest song of the batch but you wouldn't know it; even more up-tempo and immediately assertive of the electro-pop platform Croatia push so gracefully.
A: It's difficult to pin down exactly which “wave” pre-fix best describes the group. Synth-wave, dark-wave and chill-wave all seem apt, oftentimes within the same song. This tide-shift of waves is most apparent on third track 'Cut Me Out'. It burbles along like a J. Hopkins cousin or one of Apparat's lost dogs, ignoring verse-chorus-verse structure to build to something more significant. Comparisons aside, the outro-bridge marks atmospheric high-point for the record
'Make Circles' is an oneiric piece of framing: the dreamwork's curtained hallway. Mid-tempo, it reflects itself back at the listener like a skipped stone on a still pond. . . .
Final track 'Dating Pool' is the most neo-80s track instrumentally, but Campbell wisely pairs it with perhaps his most pressingly current set of lyrics. It spells out clearly an underlying theme on the record, functioning as both an anthem for and an assault on the technological buffers that limit feeling(s) in this late year 2018. And praise Autechre, is it catchy! Delete Tinder. Call your parents. Get the band back together. Listen, really listen to your favourite record. Get nine full hours of sleep for once.
Q: So then, what about Half Dreams?