As October fades from memory and the winter months begin their icy grip on the UK, wtrflls second full length album Online Dreams soundtracks the seasonal change with a weary, sometimes sinister tenacity.
wtrflls’ strongest songwriting has always been born from a dedication to atmosphere, and that’s achieved in spades on Online Dreams. Even more so than on 2020’s OtherWorld, this album’s sound reflects the dreamy aesthetics of a generation raised by the internet. The Scottish singer-producer has never shied away from his love of video games and other aspects of online culture, and those interests are bleeding into the fabric of his second album. This results in a slightly less gloomy but even more cohesive set of songs, spearheaded by ‘Friends on MySpace’: another brilliant duet with fellow XXIX Club member Sunburn. Alongside New Zealand producer Illfiger, Sunburn is one of two collaborators on this album that contribute significantly to its sound, as he also shows up two produce two songs later in the tracklist. It’s good to see three members of a group that has undergone so many lineup changes still work so frequently with one another, resulting in bangers like single ‘Block Me’ as well as ‘OSRS’; where a love for turn of the century-era gaming is replicated in a hazy, alluring cloud rap number.
Vocally wtrflls never pushes himself beyond his limits, preferring to write hooks that convey the gravitas of his occasionally grim but always cryptic lyrics. ‘A Ghost in the Night’ is an exception, here he sounds more powerful than ever before as he bellows over a colossal beat from gothsyria. As the second longest song on the album, this was an obvious choice for Online Dreams’ cinematic centerpiece. The most admirable thing about these twelve tracks is the amount of time and effort that wtrflls put into them, and the people that he took along for the ride. Itchy returns here for two linkups, the former of which (‘Straws’) was a highlight of the album rollout with its emotion-stirring synth work courtesy of Sunburn and brilliantly juxtaposed performances from the two artists. Although Itchy has the strongest features by far, he is rivalled by an inspired melodic turn from Ya Mean on ‘Gold’. Every guest does their bit to make this album thrilling from start to end, and yet even without them you’d still have one of the most intriguing releases of the year. Gothic and haunting in all the right places while maintaining a foggy, ethereal tone that suggests as much about the artist’s personality in its instrumental choices as it does in its vocal moments.
Listen to the album below.
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– Chris (@malenchanted)