Japanese Dream Pop 101: A Guide To Cuushe

Andrei Cucu

Constantly dreaming must be fascinating, but also excruciatingly comfortable and probably raises a number of existential questions. However, you can have your cake and dream it too, thanks to Japan’s front-line dream-pop singer-songwriter Cuushe. Her work manages to turn everything lighter, and make you realize that you have to hold on to something or else you might float away, while also begging the question, do you really want to?

Cuushe’s dream began in 2009 with Red Rocket Telepathy, her first LP. Written while travelling between Europe and Japan, the album manages to stay somewhere above you for its entirety. It starts off with a soundtrack to a plane flight, and keeps this feeling of lightness and altitude throughout all 11 songs. A delicate mix between massive harsh sounds and slightly detuned, wailing synth lines underscore Cuushe’s speak-song, creating some extremely soft ambiental pieces which somehow seem to have stumbled upon traditional pop sensitivities. Field recordings of broken glass and airplane noises are hugely amplified (as in From the window on the plane and Swimming in the room) only to be tamed by the lilting melodies hummed either by Cuushe herself, or by the oscillators she commands. Metal hits, telephone noises, washing machines, all that somehow pertains to actual reality is bunched up and thrown into the air where it remains floating between electrified lullaby tunes. Standout tracks like Simple Complication and Summer Night Sketch might have had some solid ground under their feet at some time, but in their present form they only show remnants of a sense of gravity. Red Rocket Telepathy creates perfect niches to hide away in once in a while and almost completely forget you were ever real.

Her following major release, 2012′s Girl/You Know That I Am Here/But The Dream, is a three part EP, which offers few new songs, but offers different interpretations of Cuushe’s world in the form of a series of remixes. Her three new originals Do you know the way to sleep, I dreamt about silence and 9125 days of sleep waves maintain the ethereal quality of her previous work, but somehow turn it more digestible. Beats are more straightforward, arpeggios move nicely, but unsurprisingly for a dream-pop tune, and the vocals drop the soft spoken-word episodes for direct melodies. Whatever these three songs lose in unpredictability and experimentation they do make up for in sweetness. The standouts among the remixes are Julia Holter’s sound collage made out of bits from RRT’s Swimming in the room and Motion Sickness of Time Travel’s elongated, almost static version of Dust of dreams, also from RRT. This second release shows Cuushe’s dream slowly gathering momentum and starting to move in different directions. Whether it’s to the dance-floor as in the Blackbird Blackbird remix of 9125 days of sleep waves or to complete, glacial stasis as in Federico Durand’s remix of the same track, Cuushe’s releases start to become more and more defined. Of course, the remixes are to be credited to their respective authors, but this kind of mixed EP helped somehow crystallize to essential elements of her music. Even if one might miss some of the noisier parts of RRT, Girl/You Know That I Am Here/But The Dream is certainly a step forward in terms of consolidating Cuushe’s own personal strain of dream-pop, which will be even more evident on her second LP, 2013’s Butterfly Case.

Cuushe’s latest full-length starts off with an unexpected disco twist, which proves that she has been listening to what her colleagues thought was necessary to emphasize in her tracks. Sort of light thumps, being a dancey, atmospheric number, and is pretty far off from the noisy airplanes and washing machines of Red Rocket Telepathy. Cuushe still plays with lush textures and layers of synths, but it takes you into another kind of rapture. You don’t hide above your own reality and thoughts, but rather inside the music itself. She tries to immerse you into a classic, albeit effective strictly musical catharsis, giving you the place of escape, rather than offering you the means of creating your own.  Soft, dreamy, floaty, and all those adjectives mentioned before still apply, but in a more focused sense. Her melodies don’t lead you on anymore, they directly invite you into a more generally enjoyable space. Butterfly Case is not the abstract mist that RRT was, but where that rocket takes you. This second LP is clearly a step towards a wider audience, and a more commercial sensitivity, but Cuushe manages to keep the enveloping qualities of her music intact, even when asking you not to dream, but to dance.

Her fourth proper release, Night Lines, is planned for next month and promises ‘a haunting Japanese soundscape, complete with bad guys, funeral processions and skyscraper-sized floral arrangements‘. The first two singles sound like yet another kind of mix between abstract electronica and smooth pop lines and will probably be another big step towards well deserved wide acclaim.

So, in chronological order:



Andrei CucuJapanese Dream Pop 101: A Guide To Cuushe

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