What’s in a name? The process of naming is a mechanism by which we identify and categorize people, objects, and concepts into understandable words. A name has many implications; it can bring people together with a sense of unity and just as easily spark controversy. Now, to add some specificity to this pseudo-philosophical cliché, what exactly is in a band name? I’d assert that the same notion applies to that alias under which musical artists decide to release their music. Often times a band’s name can denote the time, location, sound, or scene the group identifies with. Sometimes it can be an extension of their music, another peek into the artist’s mind.
In the case of St. Louis duo Golden Curls this is definitely the case. Their chosen moniker is taken from a line in Christina Rossetti’s poem “Goblin Market”, and it reflects their affinity for all things magical. The poem is often regarded as being intended for children, but the dark, sexual imagery that flows beneath the work evokes a theme much more mature than your average kid’s story. It’s a poem about the loss of innocence, and the fantastical nature in which it is told is what inspired the band to name themselves after it.
The name fits not only their image, but their music, too. The first notes heard on Warm Fiction, their debut EP, are a swirling keyboard steeped in Disney-like effects and accompanied by a sample from a Russian animated film. “Moon Maiden” tells the story of a character from that movie, and the way band members Sarah Downen and Noah Blackwell trade off verses from their respective characters’ point of view is charming, to be sure. But halfway through the song when the music swells uproariously, only to fade into a piano ballad filled with aching harmonies and keyboards that float like butterflies, you know it’s more than just charming – it’s special.
Golden Curls formed after Sarah and Noah began collaborating on songs over the Internet during the summer of 2011. Throughout last fall and winter, they wrote and recorded what would become their debut EP all in their respective bedrooms. The result is a stunning first release and an ambitiously confident statement of intent. Warm Fiction showcases the band’s earnest songwriting skills and finds them crafting an exceptionally unique style. The sound, though somewhat familiar in our contemporary context, is difficult to pin down. It jumps from the frenetic, spiraling carousel of “Moon Maiden” to the dreamy, lo-fi “Your Girl”, then quickly to the ambitious and sprawling “In The Cards”, the noisy “Smile”, and the soft lullaby “Warm Fiction” - all without skipping a beat.
The sum of their efforts is a sound they call “woozy pop,” a signifier that makes complete sense when they explain it in an interview:
It takes the elements of a lush dream-like state almost to the point of dizziness, hence the term ‘woozy.’ However, I like to see it as mixed imagery of when you’re in love with someone and it makes your knees week. If you marry the two, it becomes a flurry of delicate bokeh, to where you find yourself with your heart in your throat.
Reading that statement after listening to their music illuminates their whole project, and it’s nice to have an artist be so forward about their work in our current trend of masked producers and intentionally-mysterious-but-not-unique musicians. Their songs have a dreaminess about them unlike other songs given the “dream pop” label, anchored by that wooziness described above. But instead of being driven to sickness by the dizziness, you’re lifted by the “pop,” sweet enough to give you a toothache and sincere enough to bring home to your parents.
If comparisons are your thing, artists such as Beach House, Twin Shadow, Stars, Goldfrapp, and Dntel are decent reference points, both in sound and aesthetic, but Golden Curls‘ sound reaches beyond those similarities and creates something entirely unique.