We’ve all been there. It’s 2AM, and sleep has kept its distance. No matter how we turn in bed (or on the couch), there’s no rest, no gentle slide into the night. We may eventually fall asleep, only to be immediately roused from this shallow slumber by any number of internal or external stimuli. It’s frustrating and can often lead to sensory trickery. We find ourselves in a sort of existential drowsiness, unable to tell the difference between the physical world around us and that of the incorporeal one that abounds in our sleep-deprived mind.
I rarely give this situation much thought, other than how quickly I can escape it. But London musician Zen Zsigo, working as Cremation Lily, has tapped into this surreal and often terrifying headspace on his latest record, Dreams Drenched in Static.
“Barely Remembered” opens the album with hushed voices and soft piano before a gentle wash of synths drapes itself across the track. It opens the door to Zsigo’s exploration of consciousness and how we function on various depths within our dreamscape. He’s said that the lyrics to this record were mostly written in the early hours of the morning and reflect themes of depression and intimations of death – channeling the ghosts that linger in the darker recesses of our minds, brought forth when our ability to defend against them is at its lowest. We’re quickly thrown into a staticky mire on the title track, a tangled web of hiss, electronics, and rough-hewn pop mechanics. It’s our first musical clue that this journey isn’t going to be especially pleasant, though there are moments littered throughout that reflect the light of the approaching dawn.
Suddenly, things begin to come at you from all angles as “Wavering Blood” blends metal dynamics with the density of shoegaze and offers up something that feels uncompromised, reveling in its jagged edges and messy seams. It and “I’m Done (Indefinite Light)” are some of the best tracks on the record, resolving with a kind of dream logic – which actually means that there is no resolution, only a fading sense of catastrophe that isn’t easily shaken off. “Body on a Lake” is unsettling, offering up caustic noise as heard through the thumps of a bleeding sugary heart. It’s an affectionate nightmare, and one of the best tracks here.
This surehanded direction begins to falter a bit as we wander into the back half of the album, with tracks like “Moonlight Doses” and “In Pain, Surrendering” not quite living up to the promise of the earlier songs. They still exhibit Zsigo’s genre-blending abilities but with far less impressive results.
“Selfless”, however, is a gorgeous shoegaze/drone experiment and plays around with genres in a way that gives me hope that even a genre so well-worn as shoegaze can still offer a surprise or two. But, holding to his nocturnal torpor theme, he positions these songs as glimpses into dream-states that appear and disappear without warning. As we listen, our minds conjure associative images that speak to our darkest fears and the things that we hope to leave buried in the night.
Dreams Drenched in Static perfectly captures that feeling of hallucinatory exhaustion and nighttime disorientation that we’ve all experienced at one time or another. These songs help to blur the perception between our physical reality and one that we manifest through fatigue and scarcity of sleep. Not everything works as intended – a few tracks feel muddied in concept and aren’t as carefully executed as Zsigo likely planned, but the album is still an often stunning and dread-inducing work that has few contemporaries. Here’s to a good night’s sleep and another dive into Dreams Drenched in Static.