Young Dreams are a musical collective hailing from Bergen, a city on Norway’s west coast that had its 15 minutes of fame in the late ’90s with the so-called ‘Bergen Wave’: a myriad of melancholic musicians all blossoming from the city’s fertile music scene at around the same time. Fifteen or so years later, Young Dreams are being lauded as the leaders of a sort of Bergen Wave revival, joining the legions of quirky Scandinavian indie-pop bands and musicians that have been politely bubbling away for the past couple of years (Of Monsters And Men, First Aid Kit, Niki And The Dove, Efterklang and so on).
Between Places, Young Dreams’ first album, is remarkably self-assured for a debut. Each of its nine sprawling tracks (none shorter than three and a half minutes, and most over five) is an ambitious aural hodgepodge of musical styles and instruments – “symphonic trance pop psychedelia”, in the band’s own words. Young Dreams might have their roots in the chilled climes of the Norwegian fjords but their sound is busy and carnivalesque, marrying the restrained, ethereal atmosphere of Scandinavia with the colourful flourishes of world music – perhaps unsurprising, given the band’s creative mastermind Matias Tellez is actually Chilean by birth. Album opener Footprints illustrates this particularly well, kicking Between Places off with a faintly ominous, pulsating synth line that rubs uncomfortably up against lead singer Rune Vanderskog’s airy vocals and the hazy, shimmering harmonies that back it; the track then breaks out into a somewhat unexpected disco-calypso chorus, all tribal drums and lush orchestral synths.
Young Dreams do stick to this pattern – a meandering, sparsely instrumented verse in which Vanderskog’s crystal-clear voice is the main attraction, followed by an energetic and celebratory chorus – pretty closely throughout the album, which can make the nine songs a little hard to differentiate from each other. That’s not to say there’s a lack of variety: indeed, the band seems unwilling to stick to one tune for very long, instead cramming as many musical ideas as possible into each song so as not to waste a single one. In Fog Of War, frenetic synth arpeggios bubble beneath overlapping call-and-response vocals and an organ swirls theatrically around sugar-sweet middle-eight harmonies; When Kisses Turn Salty mixes groove-led passages of crunchy bass and retro keyboard noises with dreamy, choral washes of sound. There are Vampire Weekend-esque strings, Fleet Foxes-style vocal harmonies, Bombay Bicycle Club-y guitar licks and jittery Friendly Fires synths, but Young Dreams deploy these components so deftly that they rarely sound derivative in the way that, say, Theme Park do.
Between Places is confidently crafted, then – but not completely successful. While its lush complexity is certainly beautiful, this is also its fatal flaw: there’s so much beauty here that it can feel shallow and meaningless, without anything harsh or gritty as a counterpoint. At times it sounds as though the band have created the soundtrack for some futuristic musical that hasn’t yet been written – the music only part of something, rather than the whole. For the most part, the songs lack that punchy, immediate quality that connects with the listener straight away, instead relying on the listener’s patience and willingness to immerse themselves in its atmospheric depths without a catchy hook to hold on to – the 11-minute-long mess that is The Girl That Taught Me To Drink And Fight being a prime example of this. Young Dreams have a theatricality and creativity about them that a lot of comparable bands lack, but they could do with being a little less sweet and a little more demanding.