In the vast myriad of genres, it’s hard to determine what is one’s favourite. I tell people I like pop music but it just seems too vague. The problem with pop is that it is a bloated genre by this point in time. At least half, but probably considering more, of the music on my iPod could constitute pop. So what does music do at this point? It invents the sub genre. This is absolutely necessary in today’s pop landscape. Heck, even a genre that is comparatively very youthful has already felt the need to splinter. The rapid expansion of dubstep has meant many enthusiasts are keen to differentiate between it’s diverse types. Some acts even explicitly invent their own genre, such as the seemingly club-obsessed LMFAO and their new genre of “party rock”, a label that features relentlessly in their lyrics, and even figures in their song and album titles.
So what is my favourite branch on the wise old tree of pop? You may have guessed already from the title of this piece. But what is atmospop? I have heard the term used before to describe haunting mid-tempo tracks from the 1980’s, such as Duran Duran’s “Save A Prayer.” Similarly, I have seen it likened with the genre of “dream pop”, popularised by artists such as the Cocteau Twins. Whilst I fully incorporate these areas within my definition, I also find it limiting. I personally classify atmospop as any piece of popular music that tends to have the same sensual effect on you as the passing of a light cold breeze. I am talking precisely about those now-cliched hairs on the back of one’s neck standing up. The genre is named as such because of the atmosphere it creates when one listens to it, a kind of powerful ambience. Chill out that bays you to tune in. Vocals can have a distinct echoed effect, strings and electronic production also feature heavily. What all of these songs with one another in that they have been meticulously formed. Every vocal inflection, every beat of every drum, every strum of a guitar, every blip and every blop, has been thought about and incorporated expertly. Without delving too far into my own pretentiousness, I also associate a great deal of these songs with Winter… every one of them is definitely best accompanied best by a brisk walk outside in frosty sub-zero temperatures.
One of the most fantastic things about the genre is that it is without a limitation within a particular time period. It can be one of the highlight phases in the careers of our most versatile artists, or the launch and trademark sound of a hot new talent. For some pop acts often taken less seriously than they deserve, I believe the genre often delivers some of their most critically acclaimed work. I refer back to my last pop-based blog regarding the Spice Girls, in which I discussed the praise received by their final effort as a five-piece, “Viva Forever.” The layered classical intro and beautiful harmonies cement this song’s place in my mind as an atmospop classic. The genre also perfectly suits the melancholic mood of the group at the time, following the departure of Geri.
It is at this point that I will describe a few more bastions of the genre.
Oft-compared to the Spice Girls simply for being the other major girl group of the time, All Saints were actually rather different. Seldomly seen without their beloved combat trousers, the flavour of the band was altogether more R&B sound on the whole and as a result, a great deal of their material hasn’t aged well. Excepted from this however, are there atmospop efforts. The best known of these is arguably “Pure Shores“, memorable for it’s inclusion in the soundtrack to Leonardo Di Caprio’s The Beach. Unlike the other entries in their discography, the William Orbit production on this track is lush and as fresh as ever. This song is overshadowed by “Never Ever” for the title of the group’s biggest hit, but I far prefer this. Another notable atmospop contribution of the All Saints girls comes in the form of “Black Coffee” from the same album, also benefitting from the masterful production of William Orbit.
As we all know, Madonna has experimented with a great deal of musical styles both successfully and unsuccessfully. Her longevity is a source of admiration, but also of anguish for some people. However, even her critics appear to be in agreement that the “Ray Of Light” album is amongst her finest works. The album itself is brimming with atmospop, as one can see without having to look any further than the singles it produced. Both “Drowned World/Substitute For Love” and “The Power of Goodbye” add depth and style to the ballad genre, whilst “Frozen” stands out as the mid-tempo gem of the piece. Yet again, the production benefits considerably for the trademark influence of William Orbit. Despite immensely enjoying later efforts such as “Confessions On A Dancefloor“, I am personally of the opinion that Madonna has failed to better these songs since.
In more recent times, other artists have been keen to jump on the atmospop bandwagon. Whilst several of the artists involved remain outwith the upper echelons of the charts, others such as Lana Del Rey has made a significant transfer over to the mainstream. Her unique brand of faded Americana coupled with hip hop production stylings make for a winning combination. Many of the tracks on her debut LP (as Lana Del Rey, at least) convey ethereal melancholy at various tempos. A favourite of mine, recent single “Blue Jeans” feels like the natural successor to the similarly atmospheric “Wicked Game” by Chris Issak.
She is amongst one of the many artists I have included in this special atmospop Spotify playlist. There are around 90 tracks on there from all corners of the musical spectrum, but that I feel all exemplify the idea i’m trying to convey. My serving suggestion for this playlist is that it is listened to either on headphones or in the wonderful acoustics of your most likely non-carpeted bathroom. Enjoy!
I urge you to use the comments box to debate the true meaning of the genre, discuss their favourite tracks on the playlist and suggest new inclusions!