Sweet Dreams Nadine
photo by Anna Johnson
“Sweet dreams” is a comforting refrain spoken before sleep. It’s imbued with wistful tenderness, an offering of oneself to be carried off into the land of Nod. In dreams, we dissolve. Our anxieties, desires, conception of self: all become refracted, rearranged, and obscured. So “sweet dreams” is also a plea, that upon waking we might still be able to recognize each other as once before.
By changing their name, Sweet Dreams Nadine seek to dissolve and obscure, and in turn reveal, the group’s true essence. 2018’s oh my was recorded across a few sessions in piecemeal fashion. The project has always been defined by collaboration (that of Nadia Hulett, Carlos Hernandez and Julian Fader, the latter two known for their work in Ava Luna), but with Hulett having written most of the oh my songs beforehand, (and with a mononym like Nadine, so close to Nadia), she couldn’t help feeling like her ego was wrapped up in the group’s identity.
So in the making of Sweet Dreams Nadine, their eponymous follow up, the trio is recentering the focus. It’s the first record they wrote together from the ground up. Hulett’s voice is still the narrating presence, but Hernandez and Fader’s contributions are clearly up front and integral to the world of the record. They are even characters themselves in lead single, ‘Weird Love,’ with Hulett probing into the status of their love lives as the song fades.
Improvisatory in nature, the Sweet Dreams Nadine sessions exuded reverence for the recording process. First, in a cabin on Long Island, each member set up a station, Hernandez with a MIDI keyboard, Fader with drum loops/samples, and Hulett with a microphone for improvising melodies and lyrics. The next session took place in Malmo, Minnesota, on lake Mille Lacs, which introduced piano to the recordings and is where most of the songs began taking shape. These sessions were then expounded upon at Carlos and Julian’s studio, Gravesend Recordings, where the broader sonic landscape came together and final vocals were committed to.
It’s fitting that dreams enter into the new identity of the group. The ten songs across this record play like dreams retold and misremembered, with details swirling like watercolors. There is ‘Off the Coast of Mexico,’ which features a Harry Nilsson-inspired monologue that is simultaneously woozy and confident as it bounces around from tropical paradise to frozen tundra. Hulett’s painterly eye takes center stage on ‘Indigo,’ as an ex-lover makes an exit in the night. Like a good painting, the movement is implicit, more felt than shown. And the emotional peak of the record, the sun dappled and dusty ‘sdn,’ encapsulates the album’s thematic, almost mystical weight.
“you are the moon’s rise
tears welled up all the way up
when i talked about my angel guides
coming around whenever i sing”
All in all, the music of Sweet Dreams Nadine is generous. Concepts of love, self, and longing are given up as an offering, delivered with the sort of reverence akin to “sweet dreams” to a loved one. These lines, sung by Hernandez in ‘Track Star,’ sum it up:
“all the stories that i know
go with me
the stories i live by
the stories i die by
i carry them with me
take them all.”
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