Album Review: Candy Claws – Hidden Lands

Let’s forget about chillwave for a minute, everybody. It’s easy to see why Candy Claws, the Colorado duo of Ryan Hover and Kay Bertholf, is lumped in with the genre with a cursory listen – it’s nostalgic, it’s airy, it’s atmospheric, it’s chill. But before images of Chaz Bundick and Alan Palomo dance in your heads, remember that there was atmospheric, nostalgic, beautiful music before those dudes became the (hilarious) fodder for Hipster Runoff. Remember Kria Brekken (early Múm)? Remember Boards of Canada?

Hidden Lands‘ opener “In the Deep Time” makes it easy to set this alongside the ’00-’05 era ambient stuff. The layers of moody strings and the almost-whispering vocals? The playful synths? It’s the gorgeous, sweeping sound of sleeping, relaxing, spacing out, writing a term paper, or just laying awake and thinking about the big stuff.

But the album doesn’t rely solely on being a relaxing record of ambiance. It slowly builds into the whimsy of Brian Wilson or Mary Poppins. It’s subtle, sure, but “Sunbeam Show” definitely has the light-hearted synth trot of “I’m Waiting For the Day.” And it’s that playfulness, that dash of Fantasyland major chords, that makes Hidden Lands compulsively listenable.

And maybe that’s the thing that makes Candy Claws’ music nostalgic. The record plays like a childhood dream – a blurry representation of a fantastical moment, like skipping through the woods with animals that can smile and dance (or at least that’s what comes to mind with “Warm Forest Floor”, which seems appropriate).

There’s a reason for that feeling like you’re listening to a whimsical romp through the forest. The album was made by Hover and Bertholf as a companion piece to a book called The Secret Life of the Forest. The book is a scientific book that illustrates about the “unknown” of the forest. Thematically, that explains titles like “Silent Time of Earth”, “Miracle Spring”, and “A Strange Land Discovered”. But also, as they told Tom Breihan at Pitchfork, they ran phrases from the book through a Google Translator from English to Japanese and then back to English – that’s how they got lyrics like “Tree of life in the sea.” Of course, you can’t really hear any of the lyrics since Hover and Bertholf are lost in the ocean of dreamscape.

So it’s a concept album. Alright. But it doesn’t shove it in your face by spelling out, “This song is about trees and dandelions.” If the concept is based on a science book full of paintings of trees, it sure doesn’t make it obvious. Honestly, it just sounds like a dream-inspired Brian Wilson-tinged collection of atmospheric, ambient, beautiful tunes. And as a full album, Hidden Lands flows gorgeously, knowledge of a greater “concept” or no.

Quick aside: The band was recently in an accident where their tour van caught fire and all their stuff (gear, merch, computers) was destroyed. The band, thankfully, is doing fine and is borrowing equipment and getting back on the road. But if you want to donate to help them replace the things that were lost, the good people at their label, twosyllable, have set up a donation page.


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