Tom Lark: Brave Star (digital outlets)

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Tom Lark: Brave Star (digital outlets)

One of the many advantages of dream pop is that it delivers on its product description in a way that other labels – alternative (to what?), indie and metal – simply don't because they are so diverse, the terminology too inexact.

But as with power pop, dream pop is an idiom which isn't too disparate and conforms to certain norms.

In the case of dream pop they are a kind of weightlessness, usually vocals placed in the mid-ground and not too assertive, the structure of simple pop (verse/chorus/verse/chorus or some small variant thereof) and embellishments (steel guitar, keyboards) which are measured and don't impose themselves.

This doesn't mean that dream pop is by definition a bit vacuous – it can be, so can indie and metal – but when it deals with emotional or important ideas (Lennon's dream pop template on #9 Dream, Neil Finn's albums Dizzy Heights and Out of Silence by way of example) they are wrapped in that melodic blanket which invites you in. And offers a cushion of familiarity on which to rest the weary head.

Auckland-based singer, songwriter and producer Tom Lark – aka Shannon Fowler aka Shannon Matthew Vanya– may baulk at that reductive description but much of this debut album bends towards classy, slightlydelic dream pop with nuanced tremolo guitar passages, easy melodies and inviting vocals, notably the singles Radio Blaster, the country-flavoured Live Wires and Brave Star.

Lark also has something to say in his own quiet way: Brave Star is about the mayfly life-span of former celebrities who've had “the peak round behind the curtain . . . maybe you are star but not the one you thought you were”. This could sound cruel or glib but Lark's delivery suggests a degree of empathy.

Move On driven by a relentless percussion pattern looks back on being a kid trying to run away from home then going back, but now seeing himself in adulthood as the same person who “never seems to move out, just move on”.

There's a lovely warm Pacific feel to the airy flow of the five minute-plus centrepiece Washout (“I work a long day and not a minute after . . . I don't need no California”); Softserve is the sound of summer bottled into three minutes of breezy yacht-rock (which recalls in a pleasant way California MOR pop of the Seventies); Live Wires might be buoyed by dream pop but there's a life message in its lyrics.

Wild Fire is a philosophical late-period Lennon-cum-Beatle ballad with Harrison-like guitar. 

Brave Star is an album adrift on a sea of memory bliss, cleverly produced and like a sonic mood-piece.

It's an album which gives dream pop a very good name.

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You can hear and buy this album at bandcamp here


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