Review: Butterbeer - "Obliviate"

Butterbeer - Obliviate
(2017 BoringProductions)

I've yet to hear an installment in BoringProductions' discography that hasn't blown me away. Keeping their output uniformly jangly, the Chinese label has spent the past two years curating a signature sound that looks to the brittler textures of 90s dream-pop for inspiration: among its eight artists with official releases, there's a shared reverence for the warm shimmer of college rock groups like The Sundays and Blake Babies, varnished with the shoegaze-lite trebliness of Cocteau Twins' later works like Four Calendar Cafe.

A collaborative outlet for the frontwomen of Atta Girl and Chestnut Bakery (whose debut album was one of my favorite 2015 releases), Butterbeer is the best realization of BoringProductions' creative vision yet. Recorded in a bedroom roughly two years ago, it's a record that's as texturally snug as your favorite comforter, but feels too vast to be confined by the space it was recorded in. Snatching their carbonated guitar tone from records pressed by 4AD in their heyday, the duo form cozy pockets of energy that start off subdued, but quickly expand in surges of emotion. Each chord and vocal swell is a reverse tide, pushing you further away from the shore until you're surrounded by harmony.

Oblivate's opening couplet, "A Secret" and "Platform", is sung almost entirely in Chinese. Even though the lyrics might be lost in translation for English-speaking audiences, the pair of tracks form the record's most exciting one-two punch right out of the gates, rippling splashes of delayed guitar across drum beats that paddle across the transparent surface. Especially on the former of the two tunes, there are traces of old Airiel records bobbing at the crest of water: multi-instrumentalist Jovi's gelatinous chords wobble under the heft of Rye's drawn-out syllables, which linger like impossibly-dense fog. You can't help but be reminded of "In Yr Room" as distortion swallows the scenery with its arresting roar. 

Airiel's rippling instrumentation and patient vocal delivery on "In Yr Room" bears 
less-delicate resemblance to Butterbeer's crescendos.

Six tracks written in English follow. The best of these are backed by acoustic guitar, giving ample wiggle room for Rye and the instruments she's brought along to complement her verses. Butterbeer deconstruct The Cranberries' folk-rock arrangements to a miniature, lo-fi scale on "To The Stars". Washes of a keyboard's strings sample run through the skeletal tune's exposed circulatory system, biting like a winter draft that passes through your ribcage. Given the crushing gravitas conveyed by the instrumentation, it's surprising how childlike and sleepily cute the lyrics are. Butterflies are our friends and we’ll grow so many flowers," Rye sings. "All that we can hear is music and laughter". The scene set is so carefree it's hard to process: there's a sweet fantasy about it that feels very "Puff, the Magic Dragon" in a sincere way. 

"Another Sunny Day", which I'd heard previously on a label compilation, is another standout. The track's an ode to its titular band, who dropped a handful of singles in the late 80s via twee-pop imprint Sarah Records. Here, Butterbeer are true to their source material, hanging garlands of staccato guitar on a woozy chord progression. "I've decided to forget all about you," Rye sings offhandedly. As these unnamed mysteries disappear, so does the track: it's simple, catchy and gone in an instant. The perfect pop tune. 

If you've peeped a BoringProductions release in the past, you know what to expect: Obliviate is well-produced, accessible, and dreamy as anything you'll hear this year. Give the record a spin, and then check out the rest of the music available on the label's Bandcamp page. You won't be disappointed.