Horace Walpole described his proto-Gothic novel The Castle of Otranto as an attempt to find a balance between fanciful medieval romance and the strict realism of modernist literature. Now, gothic is used to describe anything that is dark or sinister, yet Walpole’s words capture an overlooked dimension – a tension between two conflicting ideas.
Paper Dollhouse embody this tension. Just as the cover for new album ‘The Light Looks Different Here’ merges the light starved with vivid technicolour, the duo of Astrud Steehouder and Nina Bosnic have crafted 12 tracks sitting between the tangible and the ethereal, the ecstatic and the morose.
Throughout, the music floats between hauntological stupor and a pure, ethereal pop melodicism. The thick reverbs and swells of sound mean the songs often feel weighed down by the psychic pressure of information saturation. While the likes of Grouper or the Caretaker appear determined to hide from this pressure in a blanket of sentimental textures, Paper Dollhouse are reaching out to peer through the cracks in the echo chamber.
Synthesizer led tracks like ‘Green Pool‘ and ‘4 Moons‘ latch onto the sense of utopia through electronics practiced by Delia Derbyshire, but the innocence of these early experiments is obscured and twisted through a 21st Century prism. Later in the album, this pattern seems to be inverted. ‘Lullaby’ and ‘Meteor Storm‘ are smothered in misty drones and echoes, but both tracks slowly expand into richer tapestries of sound through post-punky drum machines and twitching synth chords.
The natural and the synthetic are in constant collision. Bosnic and Steehouder’s voices float around ancient folk traditions, but the interjections of machine rhythms, synth arpeggios and smatters of field recordings mean they are constantly tethered to modern momentum. It feels like a détournement of new age and ambient music. Effects such as reverb and delay that normally add a choral effect to voices somehow do the reverse, making them seem isolated and extra-terrestrial. The sounds are beautiful, but that only serves to amplify the fractures and the dissonance.
‘Nothing Sacred’ opens with Bosnic coldly stating “awake but still in a dream” over shifting bass tones and a stuttering sample. The effect is what you’d imagine a Daphne Oram soundtrack to an Iain Sinclair novel would sound like. ‘The Sky Looks Different Here’ conjures both ethereal escapism and cold reality. The album feels haunted by monolithic structures, yet it strives to amplify the cracks of light shining through.
The Sky Looks Differently Here is out now, order a copy from Bleep.
A2. Green Pool
A3. 4 Moons
A5. Mountain Energie
A6. Pearl’s Theme
A7. Nuclear Alignment
B1. Dream Fields
B4. Nothing Sacred
B5. Meteor Storm