THIS MAY SEEM AN UNFAIR comparison, or at least unfair to be talking about someone else in a review, but it was while listening to the new one-off single from Scottish band, Texas, that Victoria’s Coda Chroma came into fuller view.
This new Texas song (in the film clip for which, singer and co-writer, Sharleen Spiteri, reveals herself as a new drummer) is a typically smoothly attractive piece of adult pop that muscles up just enough to make a brief guitar solo not feel incongruous and shoots high just enough to count as uplifting. It’s a perfectly good song, from a perfectly good band.
On this new Coda Chroma album, the songs of singer/songwriter Kate Lucas (a multi-instrumentalist who may well be a drummer – it wouldn’t surprise me) becomes an example of what you can do with much the same basic material as Texas, but bolder ambition and deeper examination.
Using pretty much the same range of instrumentation – often led by, but not dominated by synthesisers; bass, drums and guitar in acoustic and electric form; never shy strings – neither rhythmically risky nor sonically on-trend, and sung with a level of intimacy pitched slightly more mid-distance than whisper-close, Dreamself reveals itself to be an album of elegant pop songs.
The world is not short of those at any time of course, even if trend-focused radio, and media generally, can forget this is where the bulk of music listening people live in the world after school. Not that a lot of it out in the world is that good (or that bad) of course, much like anywhere else. Where Dreamself distinguishes itself from the pack is how it places these songs – for example the opening, I’m Not Fighting It, where never quite bright-eyed jangling guitar emerges out of a grey night swirl – within an environment that evokes a more complex mood than the generic “dreamlike” often attributed to records like this.
In Fingers, subtly layered vocals upfront, chiming strings in the background, and a bridge of synths between them challenges the delicacy with a subplot of emotional hesitation. What begins as pretty begins to shade into questioning. By contrast, My Garden enters proceedings with uncertainty hanging over it, but as the sounds thicken, the casual guitar introduction supplanted by firm lower strings and then more reaching upper ones, Lucas’s voice centres itself and we find ourselves feeling the growing confidence.
If Attic is at first more conventional, a guitar line traced in mostly empty space and her voice unadorned leading into a bit of shimmer and slow march, the bold strides it takes with the orchestration in a couple of bursts sees the song ending with an edge that is pointed. That edge is evident right from the start of Frankenstein, a song that well before it fuzzes up then strangles the guitar, quite incongruously but somehow convincingly suggests the merger of a moody Nirvana with peak-years Texas: tension and wonder, a low-level threat and a not well hidden need to run free.
You can make adult pop and not shake any rules, and that’s fine, but you can also do more without scaring the horses. To borrow a line from I’m Not Fighting It, this album may feel like “some old record beaming in from the past”, but that beam’s path is never left unimpeded.
SPOTIFY: Listen to Coda Chroma - Dreamself
APPLE MUSIC: Listen to Coda Chroma – Dreamself