When Teen Daze started out, the most likely place to see the name of the artist for any non-obsessed music fan was in a playlist with the word “calm” next to a poetic adjective in the title, as background music for studying, or in the best case, as a lesser-known alternative to electronic synthpop outfit Tycho. There was some sort of formlessness about the genre known as chillwave that favored a mood instead of music, let alone a musician. Teen Daze challenged that with 2015’s ‘Morning World’, an indie pop record that marked a distinct shift, and now, with ‘Themes for Dying Earth’, the artist seems to have settled on a sound, more confident and fully-developed than ever. The latest album by Canadian multi-instrumentalist Jamison Isaak is one we all need – a hazy, lush dreamland, a gorgeous soundscape of pure escapism.
The list of guest appearances on the album is impressive: Justin Young, Nadia Hulett of Phantom Posse, Sean Carey of Bon Iver, Sound Of Ceres and Jon Anderson. Yet ‘Themes for Dying Earth’ is a very personal record. As someone struggling with anxiety and depression, Isaak found solace in the valleys of British Columbia in Canada, the Fraser Valley region in particular. At times, the album hints at a distressed mental state but mostly acts as a response to it. ‘Lost’ encapsulates both, mirroring the listeners’ experience: the song opens with Isaak singing “feeling hopeless, feeling lost”, but later in the track, a female voice lures him into escaping with her: “Deep inside the woods is where I go to understand/ I want to run away with you,” Nadia Hullet sings.
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As you might guess from that line, or just by looking at the titles of many of the songs – ‘Cherry Blossoms’, ‘First Rain’, ‘Water in Heaven’ – nature is the conceptual link between the songs. And though the album title suggests a grim picture of a doomed planet, Isaak seems to be doing something else to respond to climate change. As if inspired by a walk in the woods and reading Wordsworth, Teen Daze reflects the indescribable beauty of nature – the bubbling synths on ‘Cycle’, the sound of rain behind the beautifully luscious ‘First Rain’, the ethereal, warm resonance of ‘Water in Heaven’. The exception seems to lie in some of the lyrics, where fears channel through, blurred at times by the dizzyingly sparkly coalescence of sounds, like on ‘Rising’: “Will an endless wave take us away?/An ending we created, nothing left to save,” he sings.
Perhaps the album’s best asset is that this interconnectedness is also achieved through more than just one musical style. The album is an amalgamation of Isaak’s previous musical efforts, ranging from ambient to dream pop with hints of live guitars and singer-songwriter influences, producing a coherent, complex whole. The wordless ambient tracks are just as detailed and evocative as the songs with familiar song structures, and function as more than lengthy, abstract interludes. If ambient music is a sonic representation of solitude – a fitting comparison in this case – ‘Themes for Dying Earth’ embraces its ability to heal and invites you to experience it. ‘Dream City’ sounds like a somber, reflective accompaniment to a late-night stroll, while ‘Anew’ has a lullaby-like, dreamy quality. The delightful ‘Cherry Blossoms’ evokes the enthusiasm of the morning light, of the sun hitting your face as the day slowly acquires its shape. Where aimless electronica fails, ‘Themes for Dying Earth’ succeeds.