A dream remembered

ASPIDISTRAFLY’s newest album is a stroll through a fantastical dreamscape

Vae O’Neil, Arts and Entertainment Editor

Ratings: 10/10

Dreams are powerful things. They can be magical, lucid, inspiring and fleeting all in one night. Such a romanticized view of dreams is exactly what the roots of Singaporean duo ASPIDISTRAFLY cling to. Their music is made up of surreality and timelessness, unbound and interwoven with a land of fairy-tale, for listeners to lose themselves within. Inspired by thoughtful books, other musicians, and dreams of their own, ASPIDISTRAFLY’s newest album, “Altar of Dreams,” is the first to be released in over a decade.

ASPIDISTRAFLY is composed of April Lee and producer Ricks Ang, who have been working together for over 13 years. Lee is the face of the music, as her voice is the one that brings these stories to life, while Ang is on the not-so-obvious but no-less-important side of sound design and production. Ang is also the founder of the group’s associated record label, KITCHEN. LABEL. Lee and Ang’s discography is made up of two other albums besides “Altar of Dreams,” known as “i hold a wish for you” and “A Little Fable”. They found ASPIDISTRAFLY’s personality within “A Little Fable,” a wispy wonderland full of yearning and fantasy, wrapped within a haze of static and fog; in “Altar of Dreams,” the fog is beginning to clear.

Compared to past work, the new album is something altogether familiar and unknown; the same handwriting in new ink on different paper. Where before the duo focused on the sounds and themes of nature, or using analog sounds – such as a gas stove being lit – they now include slightly more modern sounds, like buzzing phones and samples from 80s era commercials, to encompass the expanding scope of ASPIDISTRAFLY’s creative signature. 

This isn’t to say that their music has completely changed – it hasn’t. 

Natural themes are still wholly present, for example elements of birdsong may be found in the orchestral sections of songs like “The Voice of Flowers.” However, the presentation of the theme has evolved to include a digitally-focused range of found sounds, clearing up the static haze of “A Little Fable” to give this new album its own peculiar personality. 

“Altar of Dreams” offers a mix of traditionally structured songs, with lyrics and poetic structure, as well as unorthodox and ambient songs. Though the band’s experimental works might be devoid of Lee’s familiar voice, they weave together many of those aforementioned found sounds and clips into a surreal tapestry of an awe-striking dreamscape. A good example of these types of songs is “Silk and Satins,” which is a perfect cacophony of different bleeps and bloops, hums and buzzes, both familiar and alien. Don’t go for a moment thinking that the songs with lyrics are any more clear-cut than those without, however. Take “The Voice of Flowers” for example; supported by a rising and falling cast of flutes, horns, strings and piano, Lee uses profoundly abstract diction to tell the story of a day, and maybe of a life. She speaks of the brightness of the sun, and how it diminishes: “The sun is a gentle fire / Sedating the world in hazy slumber … The waning glow of daylight / In your shadows I find respite.” She speaks of the mortality of a day: “The luster of years foretold / Each day lives only a day old / Time wither like wind / Trembles, decays from within”. Thirdly she speaks of a different kind of mortality: “To the furthest crevices of the earth / We voyaged through death and birth…” One meaning someone could glean from this is the story of flowers that live for only a day. Perhaps something like daylilies, which are blooms that live for the day and die with the fading of the sun’s light; there are many flowers per plant, though, so daylilies cycle through death and life, day after night after day.

Nevertheless, any meaning caught from music like this is at best a hypothesis; messages and meanings in the music of ASPIDISTRAFLY are as solid and tangible as steam. Though this isn’t cause for much concern at all; there’s something comfortable about the warmth that comes from the vague vibrance that April Lee and Ricks Ang have created. “Altar of Dreams” lets anyone who cares to listen sink within its depths, to be carried off to somewhere wonderful, imaginary and real. 

“Altar of Dreams” and the rest of ASPIDISTRAFLY’s discography can be found on all streaming platforms and sites.