The Veil Nebula, a huge cloud of plasma and dust, is notorious among astronomers for being difficult to see through a telescope. Long-exposure astrophotographs show gossamer electric blues and reds, like bridges of woven ice and rubies frozen in the sky. Listening to CYGNUS, the debut from Pale Spring, composed of married couple Emily Harper Scott and Drew Scott, is like noticing collapse stars return as sound. Drawing from nightmares real and dreamed, CYGNUS makes loops and rifts manifest, threading pop melodies through rings of samples and drum programming.
Pale Spring wrote and recorded CYGNUS in Baltimore, whose fertile music scene has seen acts like Lower Dens, Ami Dang and Beach House build rich, self-contained worlds of sound, both sonically inquisitive and mood-setting. CYGNUS expands on the foundation these groups have developed, with stately, smooth pop songs incorporating layered harmonies, glitches, and, on “Old Sounds” — before Fiona Apple, no less! — dog barks. Music runs in Harper Scott’s family: a classically trained musician herself, her grandfather studied at Juilliard under his uncle, who played for the New York Philharmonic. Scott’s grandfather sang doo wop, and his influence paved the way for Scott to explore music; eventually, he taught himself how to sample. His accompaniment provides an underpinning for Harper Scott’s vocals and instrumentals.
Much of the album renders anxieties, depressions and nightmares within surreal settings. Harper Scott’s words seem to float, belying her vocal control; Scott’s production crackles, stutters and thrums, as if reflecting the characters inhabiting the songs. On album opener “Silence,” beats clatter like a pitch-shifted trash can lid. “Belongings,” written by Chris Taylor of DC screamo pioneers pageninetynine, begins with a beat like a knock at the door. “When you come home,” Harper Scott sings, “the cats won’t speak. It’s as if you were never here.” “Old Sounds” describes the exhaustion of unrelenting depression: “this feeling beating me ’til there ain’t much…but a few notes kept in a box you have left.”
Critics noticed CYGNUS when it first came out last year, with glowing reviews in Bandcamp, Tiny Mix Tapes and DAZED. American Dreams Records’ vinyl reissues of CYGNUS and DUSK mark the first time they’ve been made widely available as physical media. “I’m excited for this music to be reborn in a new context,” says Harper Scott. “I feel like we’re getting a second chance.” There’s no need for equipment to hear how far they’ve come.