A Guide To The Best Dream Pop Acts of 2023
What is dream pop? The question is simple but the answer has bedeviled critics, music writers, and fans for the better part of the past 30 years. Most listeners seem to agree that dream pop is an atmospheric genre that combines hazy vocals, twinkling guitars and dense layers of sound to create music rich in texture and tone. What began as an offshoot of shoegaze in the early ’90s has since morphed into a sub-genre of alternative indie pop-rock entirely its own that continues to explore new sonic directions even as it often borrows from its forebears.
At its best, dream pop albums are like good dreams, where you find yourself awash in a world that’s both beautiful and a bit unsettling, but in a good way. Dream pop is the type of thing you know when you hear it, yet fans of the genre will agree that something about the music is distinctly dreamy—fuzzy, melodic music that feels like aural memory from another time.
Dream pop is a genre that, when most people think about it, comes up in conversation with artists like Beach House and Cocteau Twins. There is, however, a new wave of artists emerging today that are creating some of the most unique and wonderful sounds in not only the dream pop genre, but music in general. With that in mind, here are some of my favorite under-the-radar acts making dream pop today.
If you’ve listened to experimental music in the last decade, you might know the name Marlene Ribeiro. Before becoming a solo artist, Ribeiro spent a decade in the band GNOD, conjuring surreal, experimental sounds that treaded the boundary between noise, folk and doom metal through deft use of guitar distortions and abstract soundscapes. She made her name with GNOD, but these days Ribeiro has become a reliable source of beguiling dream pop on her own terms. Exploring experimentation in evocative, trance inducing soundscapes, Ribeiro’s solo work uses field recordings and unusual instrumentation to create atmospheric songs with psychedelic undertones. Floating between dream pop, shoe gaze and ambient, her music paints bare landscapes to create an ambiance that is at once benignly tranquil but still unnerving; each track is a seductive swirl of drifting voices, distant percussion and analogue synths. Transcendent and stylistically innovative, Ribeiro’s debut solo album, Toquei No Sol, is a fresh new chapter for this unique artist.
Carla dal Forno
Australian singer/multi-instrumentalist Carla dal Forno has been rightly lauded for her unique sound. An expert at taking pop song elements and transforming them into mysterious audio phenomena, Carla’s solo work is a rich, delicious combination of leftfield post-punk and dubby, ambient pop. Her music is distinguished by a minimalist approach that underscores her hard, downcast lyrics with jittery percussion and eerie, echoing chords. It’s a brooding sound that’s simultaneously harrowing and beautiful. Give Carla dal Forno’s music a minute to unspool and it’ll start to make sense. Each song reveals itself in layers, with floating melodies and experimental instrumentation that expand the emotional possibilities of dream pop music.
Il Quadro di Troisi
Il Quadro di Troisi is a dream pop duo from Italy, comprised of two leading figures in experimental electronic music—Eva Geist and Donatto Dozzy. Their self-titled debut (and only) full-length release is an absolutely gorgeous collaboration born out of the exchange of listening experiences and discussions over the late actor and director Massimo Troisi. The album’s scope and fully realized vision make it hard to believe that it’s the duo’s first release. It’s a thoughtfully crafted album that finds Geist and Dozzy drawing inspiration from the cinematic works of their home country. With Dozzy’s characteristically dense and immersive soundscapes, the record perfectly blends elements of Italo-disco and synth pop with modern electronic sounds, while Geist’s vocals are sensitive and multi-faceted throughout—perfectly clinging to the musical phrases and flowing like a filmic monologue.
Maria Chiara Argirò
It’s difficult to capture just how special Maria Chiara Argirò is. Not only is she a widely-acclaimed and celebrated member of London’s rich modern jazz scene, but she’s also joining the growing ranks of artists who are pushing the boundaries of genre and blurring lines between pop, alternative R&B and electronic music. A pianist from the age of nine and a key player in London’s multinational jazz scene, she’s played with indie bands like These New Puritans and jazz outfits like Kinkajous. Showcasing her ghostly atmospherics and dream pop sensibilities, her debut album Forest City is a collection of beautiful, upbeat dream pop tracks which explore a multitude of genres and styles, putting the Maria’s considerable talents on display. It’s a dark, rhythmic record; the mood is meditative, often cinematic, with drifting melodies that hint at brighter shores but never quite reach them.
Buzzy Lee is the solo project of Sasha Spielberg (daughter of Steven Spielberg), a musician who has been quietly exploring alternative pop for years. Sasha Spielberg has experimented with two main identities. In college, she formed a folk duo called Wardell with her older brother Theo. That project has since faded into obscurity, but as Buzzy Lee she’s found her own sound that draws on a variety of genres and influences. Her music incorporates elements of dream pop and alternative rock in the vein of similarly minded experimentalists like Grimes, Lana Del Rey and Cass McCombs. Spielberg’s debut EP, Facepaint (2018), was produced by Nicolas Jaar (with whom she also collaborated as a duo called Just Friends) and marked the arrival of an exciting new voice in indie pop. From the dreamy electronic pop sound she developed alongside Nicolas Jaar to her increasingly complex solo work, Spielberg’s identity is still developing but what she’s already produced is sensational.
In a creative milieu that is not only saturated but in danger of turning into an interminable feedback loop, Jabu is a rare and refreshing example of a group who does their own thing. Comprised of producer Amos Childs and vocalists Jasmine Butt and Alex Rendall, Jabu are a dream pop trio who create works of melodic transcendence that sweep you up and carry you away. Their music is rhapsodic and immersive—exquisite, rich in detail, and almost intangible. Jasmine and Alex’s voices echo around each other to form a journey through ethereal sound, while Amos’s production incorporates complex textures—taking cues from shoegaze and dub—to create an immersive listening experience that can transport you to another world or time.
In the age of streaming platforms and social media, it can be hard to stand out. But London duo deary’s music is a revelation and they’re the type of act you fall in love with before you realize what’s happening. An alluring presence and one that swirls like a cloud of smoke around the ears, deary’s music is one of ethereal atmospheres and textures where layers of sound create a dreamscape that’s all the more beguiling for its simplicity. A real newcomer on the indie scene, deary have yet to release a proper studio album or EP, but they’ve already carved their own niche out in the dream pop scene with their lead single “Fairground”—real gem that weaves through time and space with warm, cooing vocals and groovy rhythms. Brought to life by shimmering production, “Fairground” glides along on a sea of electronic swells and trip hop beats that recalls classic Slowdive or Portishead. The result is dreamy and delicate but with a tough core that makes it impossible to ignore.
Ruth Radelet has been working at her craft for some time now. As front woman for Chromatics, Radelet’s dreamy vocals cast a spell over anyone who heard them and helped cement the band’s status in indie rock lore. She has since moved to Los Angeles and struck out on her own, honing an understated and thoughtful sound that feels like it came out of an era long past. As a solo artist, Ruth Radelet’s music is an enigmatic and disarming force. Her voice immediately draws you in, lulling you with lilting melodies and she has an uncanny ability to evoke a hazy, relaxed mood with minimal backing instrumentation. With a beguiling, shadowy sound, Radelet’s debut EP, The Other Side, explores themes of love, death, and rebirth through an ambient dream pop soundscape that draws influence from diverse influences ranging from Joni Mitchell to Frank Ocean.
Child Actor is a dream pop duo of Venezuelan-born sound artist Natalie Plaza and east coast native Max Heath. Their unorthodox sound is the result of years of collaboration across multiple genres. Known for a style that mixes hip-hop and dream pop, Child Actor’s music is a fluttery, glowing mass of synth washes and soft-focus drums. It’s beautiful in its own way, each song a delicate piece of drifting ambience with little to latch onto. With a unique voice that blends multiple genres into a heady brew, they never spend too long in one place and routinely take their music in unexpected directions. Both Plaza and Heath share a propensity for aural experimentation and non-traditional songwriting techniques which shines through on their fractured beats and kaleidoscopic textures. Their sound is just as varied as their collaborators, with a subtle, disorienting vibe that is constantly changing yet always engaging and captivating. Lately Child Actor have also become known as producers for some of underground rap’s biggest names such as Armand Hammer, Moor Mother and billy woods, as well as collaborations with some of the best producers around like Televangel.
Tess Roby’s music is both minimal and complex, a mix of electronica, folk and dream pop. Her dynamic blend of electronics and orchestral ambience is like a digital symphony for the mind. Her enchanting voice, pristine production and inventive arrangements bring Bjork and Kate Bush to mind.
On her 2022 album Ideas of Space, Roby continues to showcase her explorative approach to pop music, seamlessly blending elements of electronic and alternative rock while highlighting her vocal range and performance. Roby’s explorational attitude as a producer and songwriter means that every moment on Ideas of Space feels like a discovery. The music ebbs and flows around you like waves lapping at the shoreline and it’s easy to get lost in the dreamlike world she creates. Roby’s voice is unwaveringly warm throughout; it’s wrapped around organic beats that never sound clinical or overproduced. Throughout this musical journey, she deftly plays with tension between mystery and clarity: songs begin calmly enough, but suddenly weave together disparate textures, themes and genres into one single piece that envelopes with equal parts beauty and mystery.
Death & Vanilla
For a band named Death and Vanilla, you might expect their music to be dark and gloomy. But listening to the Swedish alternative indie group’s music proves they are capable of many things. Though they may not be as familiar to audiences as some of their contemporaries, Death and Vanilla effortlessly churn out dream pop sounds that combine classic threads with a modern twist. Their music has a dreamy, hypnotic quality to it and their songs are melancholic and gentle, with soft vocals layered over a bed of keyboards, guitars and reverb-drenched drums. Death and Vanilla have a decidedly cinematic sound and their music sounds much more like vintage soundtrack music than most other dream pop bands. On record and on stage, the group displays a keen melodic sense that makes their music bright, breezy, or melancholy at will—keeping you on your toes while constantly mesmerizing.