Dream pop

Doll Klaw ‘Thorns’

In an increasingly atomised society still hopelessly wedded to the ‘cult of the individual’, the unifying spell of introspection wrought by a world in lockdown and existential uncertainty seemed to dismantle the cast-iron doctrines of unbridled individualism and competitive strife. As fragments of the social contract were rekindled and repaired, clarity, perspective and priorities were realised in the great fog of rumination that followed Capital’s grinding halt.

“Everything I need is right inside of me” is as bold and self-affirmative a statement can get among the global wave of epiphanies, succinctly promoting self-worth in a milieu of encouraged, consumer insecurity. Being the chorus of last year’s ‘Inside’, Doll Klaw teased the release of her new EP with a taster of her new sonic direction and spirit of reclaimed empowerment. The alias of L.A. artist Jessica Caro, Doll Klaw moves away from the caustic post-punk of 2018’s Battery Tongue in favour of shimmering, rich production and deeper excavations of her soul.

Despite being written and recorded before the global pandemic, Thorns feels uncannily born from the contemporary contemplation that haunts the air. Caro opens the EP with a paean to personal growth on the wistful ‘Vermin’, a pensive reflection on the difficult journey to better oneself shrouded in glimmering dream pop textures. Lament and sorrow drift into the second track ‘Angelica’, a mournful mediation of the painful loss of a childhood friend that’s given ethereal ascendency by rich, baroque arrangements straight out of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s Architecture & Morality, its romantic waltz also colouring the stinging ‘You Said’.

Caro can cut a lean strip of strutting menace when necessary. ‘Inside’ is expert, darkwave synthpop, a restless swagger of electro-stomp and pulsing keys scoring the emphatic extolling of invigorated purpose unobstructed by dead-end boyfriends, and an obvious choice as lead single. The title track takes an even crunchier turn, gritty synth basslines lifted from classic Depeche Mode immersed in choral washes, an intriguing clash of serene verses and ominous detours that end the EP on an aural and thematic note of trepidation that’s never too far away from discovery.

In a crowded synth scene that can often be clogged with generic derivativity, Doll Klaw firmly places herself on the crest of new wave pop that’s vital and bristling with ideas. Thorns is a thrilling and majestic statement from an artist that looks set to cast L.A. under her spell and speaks to the ruminative climate with moving prescience.

Robbie & Mona ‘EW’

No director has arguably mastered the art of non-linear narratives and character ambiguity like David Lynch. A dark and beguiling examination of the mysterious rot underneath the glamourous allure of Hollywood, his labyrinthine opus Mulholland Drive takes a ‘matryoshka’ approach to Naomi Watts and Laura Harring’s two roles, Watts’ naïve and wide-eyed Betty Elms slowly morphing into the drug-addled obsessive Diane Selwyn, whose toxic jealousy results in the death of Harring’s Camilla Rhodes who had switched from the amnesia plagued Rita to the target of Elms’ passionate rage with impeccable sleight-of-hand. With Elms wanting to make it as a film star and Rita assigning herself that name after seeing a poster of Rita Hayworth in the film’s opening, endlessly amorphous character entanglement serves as a powerful vehicle to explore the subconscious and latent desires within Lynch’s surrealist masterpiece.

There are characters within characters all over Robbie & Mona‘s debut album, although Robbie & Mona aren’t really Robbie & Mona but alter-egos of Bristol artists and avowed cinephiles Eleanor Gray and William Carkeet of Pet Shimmers fame. Embracing the austere restraint that comes with performing as a duo, the pair have explored the art of sonic textures and offbeat song structures to deliver a hazy dreamscape of a debut for Spinny Nights, a lo-fi minimalist work that balances stark arrangements with nebulous production that shifts and obscures any clarity from the experience, and presents a cast of characters such as Celine, Ruby, and The Carpenter to probe the beguiling and hypnagogic.

Illustrated by the erotically charged cover by kink photographer Scvmrat, an enticing decadence pervades EW. A beckoning mirage of downgraded synths and trip-hop drums seeps slowly into sight on the psychedelic album opener ‘Fidelity’, a captivating demonstration of Robbie’s production skills that ensure the lo-fi nature of the track is rich in aural feeling for it to avoid sounding ‘bedroom’, and Mona’s exquisite acapella recorded vocals lend a strikingly ethereal hover to the hypnotic trip. Strange traverse in unreal realms guide their second single ‘Wallpaper’, a tight and muffled synthpop number that excavates a sharp and solid pop hook amid its terse front, beautifully conveying the lyrical theme of spectral disassociation and being rather content with your newfound astral plane. Little moments throughout EW almost serve as motifs of unsought reality slowly drifting into the album’s introspective world, the slight glitches and tonal fluctuations that ebb and flow throughout ‘Cherry Fish’, each artful defect a pinch to the listener struggling to ascertain whether the daydream is real or not.

Like Lynch’s penchant for beclouded misdirection, Robbie & Mona imbue the seductive trip with disconcerting contours of abrupt dissonance and menacing hues. ‘Queen Celine’ (a character representing the surreal that features in many of Mona’s creative writing) adds crunchy electronica that instils an erratic unpredictability to the languid mood of the album, veering between industrial discord and brittle, layered vocal harmonies with eerie disquiet. Some trusty post-punk shows the duo at their most conventional but no less absorbing, a crisp drum machine that feels lifted from Radiohead’s ‘I Might Be Wrong’ pulses along mean bass on the punchy ‘Picking up Ruby’, a brief respite of groove and lithe guitar that offers a touch of nonchalant swagger. The album finale ‘Crocodile Pears’ is their most stunning track, a celestial swirl of stifled jazz and weathered keyboards that advance with a funereal march, exotic strings plucked from Björk’s cover of ‘I Remember You’ and skewed sequencers all coalesce perfectly together, but the soul of the track is Mona’s sublime voice, wavering between soaring high ranges and demure charm with ease.

Like a dream that’s felt intensely in the senses but with the plot long forgotten in the morning, EW is a record that forces one to listen again and again, not just because it’s musically brilliant, but because it tantalisingly draws you in that bit closer to elucidation as to its meaning, but clarity remains satisfyingly elusive and just out of reach. Firmly establishing themselves as heavyweights in the Bristol music community, and eclipsing even Pet Shimmers, Robbie & Mona has produced a remarkable debut effort that captures the mystifying, Lynchian soul they’re so inspired by.