“After the dream you are awake,” coo pacificUV’s Suny Lyons and Laura Solomon on the opening track of the Athens group’s newest offering. It’s a sentiment so central to their new collection of songs that they actually named the album after it. But if you think they’re referring to a waking up from their 2012 release Weekends’ lonely, pill-popping waking dream—well, they’re not.
On the contrary, After the Dream You Are Awake finds Weekends’ loneliness very much intact, though with the help of new addition and poet Solomon, that loneliness is both more nuanced and more refined. Taking a cue from The xx’s minimalist compositions, Lyons (who doubles as producer) and bandleader Clay Jordan have stripped away some of the ambient sound that characterized their style on previous releases, winding up with probably the closest thing this band will ever get to a pop album.
The compositions here, even those filled out by Lyons’ beat-making, which takes an ever-greater role in pacificUV’s releases, feel quite clean. “Russians,” one of the few tracks here you could dance to—one that sounds made to soundtrack a night of being seduced by someone you know you shouldn’t go home with but will anyway—is a slippery exercise in affected cool. Album opener “24 Frames” begins with a flurry of synth and crisp playing from drummer Lemuel Hayes but soon opens up into the sparse and spacious verse, populated by the occasional pluck of a bass string or effects-laden thwack of a drum. This scaled-back approach, also present on the sighing slow jam “Eyes Without a Face” and the plaintive “I Think It’s Coming,” leaves room for Solomon, who joined the band not only as a songwriter but as a singer as well. And her contributions are welcome on both counts.
After the Dream is full of evocative, abstract imagery: “In a second / every thread you’ll never sew,” Lyons and Solomon sing on “24 Frames.” Or, from “Christine”: “I am the eye that never blinks.” The album is replete with closed doors, hands held and then let go, loved ones followed endlessly. It’s a commentary not on any relationship in particular, but on the difficulty of finding intimacy and vulnerability in a culture in which we approach romance not with abandon, but with an eye toward self-preservation. The decision to feature Solomon’s vocals so prominently was a good one—she delivers these sentiments with charisma and winning clarity.
That clarity does indeed make After the Dream feel like a waking up from the haze of pacificUV’s previous output. If the reality Jordan & Co. woke up to is a lot like the dream they just left, so be it. They make lovely music from either place.