Aesthetic pop knows its audience. His perfectly cut bangs and face worthy of fashion adverts framed in neon on Where Polly People Go to Read’s cover, Gus Dapperton’s music is the kind of synth pop perfect for 2019. It caters to our familiarity with electronic music, which sounds both modern and retro, nostalgia mixed with our rediscovered love for synths and hooks. But it’s also tied into how artists present themselves, carefully curating personas which makes their presence on Instagram as big a deal as where they land on the charts.
It’s a welcome resurgence for a pure form of music, happy to structure itself around verse-chorus conventions and hope you sing or dance along.
Opener Verdigris builds upon a single bass hook, one which works for a slow dancefloor bop just as much as for a 16-bit videogame. Dapperton’s voice is drenched in effects, sounding like the sharp hues of the album’s artwork, coming across as digitally ethereal. Fans of Years and Years and The 1975 should lap it up.
The mood rarely changes, remaining subdued for its thirty-three minutes. It sounds best late into the night, not anthemic or euphoric, but intimate and contemplative. Drive’s soundtrack was instrumental in making this kind of sound cool again, and while it might not indulge that mood as much as, say, Chromatics do, there are elements of it there.
There’s a moment of jarring transatlantic word choice. On My Favourite Fish – an ode to his girlfriend, Jess – the line “sprightly and spastic” will catch British listeners off-guard. What’s an offensive, ableist term over here isn’t seen the same way in America, but it’s enough to make the whole song feel uncomfortable anyway.
But mostly it’s songs like World Class Cinema, with its focus on a catchy chorus, unfiltered synth sounds, and dancefloor rhythm, that make Where Polly People Go to Read a worthwhile listen, if one without surprises.
Where Polly People Go To Read is out now, via AWAL Recordings.