BEST NEW ARTIST: UNKNOWN CALLER
NYC'S Unknown Caller resuscitates the dream of the '80s with his "midnight dream pop."
A lot of Unknown Caller's fan-base probably weren't even alive when Caller ID was just coming out. There's a strange, uncanny feeling of answering the phone with no idea of who was on the other end. It could be debt collectors. It could be the Archangel Gabriel. It could be a voice from beyond the grave. It could be your future self, calling to offer comfort and guidance.
That disembodied, unknowable voice on the other end of those spiral-bound telephone cords, served as a kind of prophecy, a lightning-strike epiphany that could change your life, for better or for worse, in the span of 2 seconds.
These unexpected epiphanies are hard to find, in modern life, with everything so codified and carefully planned out. Yes, we may have marginalized the monsters but we wiped Wonderland off the grid in the same act of attrition. Perhaps that's why we're seeing more media being set in the 1980s, like Stranger Things or GLOW, imagining the past as some magical country.
Anyone who was alive and cognizant throughout the '80s can probably tell you it wasn't that great. Income inequality still existed, racial divisions and prejudices were even more pronounced, and class divisions were ruthlessly enforced. It truly was a time of "haves" and "have-nots", which is why too-literal 80s recreationists sort of miss the mark.
NYC's Unknown Caller isn't trying to recreate the '80s. Rather, he's reanimating a spectral, dreamlife of that decade, calling to mind the neon-soaked optimism and drug-addled of that era while leaving behind the big hair and broad shoulders. Take "Shells" for instance, the opening track of Unknown Caller's debut EP Columns. A brittle, funky guitar line pluckily dances along with a chilled, canned beat, while AVL's dreamy, reverbed vocals and distant post-rock guitars drift in the backdrop like points of light off of a disco ball at a homecoming dance. "Shells" sounds similarly to neo-80s revisionists like The Chromatics/Johnny Jewel but blended and blurred with gauzy modern Dream Pop like Beach House.
If both the past and present of the original Back To The Future were to be superimposed in an event horizon, it might sound something like "Shells."
UNKNOWN CALLER - SHELLS
"One More Try" finds Unknown Caller in a more optimistic mood, bringing in the classic '80s sax. This is not the sound of gold chains and bronzed chests, though. "One More Try" is more like a scrappy post-punk band fleshed out with some glam filigree. These walks of life did not co-mingle much during the '80s, originally. In this phantasmal Twilight Realm, everyone is welcome. They can all come and sway to Unknown Caller's midnight dream pop.
UNKNOWN CALLER - ONE MORE TRY
"Mistaken" drags Unknown Caller's sound a bit into the present, somewhat. It features a similar grooving, slinking guitar line to "Shells," but is even dreamier. It's like Talking Heads being spliced with This Mortal Coil's goth-soaked cover versions.
UNKNOWN CALLER - MISTAKEN
Revisionist history and alchemical pop play an important part in the collective unconscious. When these styles were first emerging, there was little chance for overlap. The '80s weren't known for their social mobility. Punks, hippies, new wavers, glams, goths, and weirdos of all stripes can come together under Unknown Caller's neon-soaked night skies. We Are: The Guard will be there, getting down.
J. Simpson occupies the intersection between criticism, creativity, and academia. Based out of Portland, Or., he is the author of Forestpunk, an online journal/brand studying the traces of horror, supernatural, and the occult through music, fashion and culture. He plays in the dreamfolk band Meta-Pinnacle with his partner Lily H. Valentine, with whom he also co-founded Bitstar Productions, a visual arts collective focused on elevating Pop Culture to High Art.