Ever listen to something that makes you think about your evolution as a music lover? So You Think You Found Love?, the first full-length from Austin-via-Massachusetts dream-pop fivesome Sasha and the Valentines, just did that for me.
As I suspect is the case with most people who take music seriously, my taste was built in phases: Several years of oldies (and nothing else) as a very young kid, then some alternative and grunge here; a couple years of early punk there; explore new genres and sounds, fixate and repeat. Some phases (like the ones I just referenced) permanently become part of your musical identity. Others evaporate, as phases do.
Seven, eight years ago, dream-pop wasn’t exactly a nonstarter for me, but it wasn’t something I sought out. For the most part, I ignored it: Too, well, dreamy. Too drifty. Too ’80s-derived. Even today, in fact, despite having nothing overtly against Beach House, I’d probably put them on a short list of the most overrated indie acts out there.
But other modern dream-pop talents came along — others who, crucially, put focused melodic energy and atmospherics on equal footing, instead of tilting the seesaw decidedly toward the latter. Most of the world has no idea who Hazel English is (Beyonce and Jay-Z probably haven’t watched her perform, after all), but she helped kickstart my dream-pop phase several years ago. Helping continue it was Marie Ullven, aka girl in red, who’s probably slightly more famous than English at this writing and may be even more so by the time the year is out.
Thanks to them and others, that dream-pop kick of mine continues — probably a permanent phase. So nowadays, I run into an article like Rachel Rascoe’s recent Faster Than Sound column on Sasha and the Valentines, I read what they’re about, and I have no hesitation about jumping in.
So You Think You Found Love? is a winking, multi-toned tag for an album full of love, anguish related to love, frustration surrounding relationships, and all manner of emotions and chemical upsets tied to that often too-consuming push to find a mate. It isn’t a concept album in the sense that there’s a quirky character named Tommy or Jesus of Suburbia, but in terms of thematic cohesiveness, it’s very much a concept record. And it’s one that works, in part because the band’s playing and Erik Wofford’s production are tailor-made for it.
Opening track “Witches” alternates between staccato plink-plinks and swirling sweep around Sarah Addi’s classically indie-pop pipes — part girl-group, part David Lynch soundtrack angel — and an effectively repetitive lyric with a seemingly cryptic “it.” (“Well you know you wanna talk about it/I heard everyone else laughed about it/But hey, it’s only you and me now/And it’ll stay, only you and me now.”)
Elsewhere, SATV go beyond hypnotically pretty and generate actual car-radio cred. Despite not being the most elaborate offering here, “Flowers” (originally released on 2019 EP Green) is a synthesis track of sorts for the band, packing driving, midtempo indie-pop punch and out-of-body floating (an “I love you better than she can” chorus) into the same sub-3-minute track. “Don’t You Love Me” is even more ripe for radio (and even better), getting close to Blondfire territory with an unintrusively heavy beat from Billy Hickey, some bassy synth activity, and ringing guitar work from Alex Whitelaw. On top of that, it features one of the more vulnerable lyrics in an album full of them: “I get those crazy eyes/Cause ending up alone has got me terrified/I wanna make it up/But we’re just too any to apologize.” An amusingly robotic “Commercial Break” intermission, promising a program to help you “meet the guy, girl, or person of your dreams” and “have some good old-fashioned fun tonight… tonight… tonight,” introduces the album’s financial stretch and offers a smile for breathing room.
Even when it dives headlong into abstract verbiage, SYTYFL (an acronym I’m taking the initiative to use and pronouncing “sit-ya-fill,” although I doubt it’ll catch on) still has the power to entrance and entertain. The intended meaning of “Tears for Mars” escapes me, for example, but I dig it. For dream lovers, few moments on So You Think You Found Love? disappoint. However, for a song title that follows the “Commercial” and might seem to promise yet more comic relief, “Tinder” is a bit of a letdown. It’s undoubtedly a thematic fit here and, in fact, gives the album its title. But its oblique anti-romanticism — rather than a more direct gun barrel trained at one of the most notorious dating apps out there for a little bit of wit — feels like a missed opportunity.
Sasha and the Valentines are essentially telling nine stories here that ultimately feel like one big one. Closing track “I See the Light,” another fully realized, cleanly constructed synth-pop treat, sounds like it puts a hopeful but tortured bow on an album’s worth of romantic trying. Addi folds in clarity, uncertainty, and fear, “sinking” yet realizing, hanging onto a certain peace of mind that’s “all I have.”
She’s suffering and un-whole there, yet clinging to hard-won perspective. It can make you think about that question the album title is posing. Is that how love is supposed to feel, or is clarity the consolation prize when you realize you’re not in love? There’s room for interpretation all across this highly enjoyable record — just as there are in dreams that leave you wondering what your subconscious is up to. Sasha and the Valentines have this dream-pop thing figured out.
**** stars out of 5