Dream Pop is a wonderfully cryptic genre as it can mean many things to different people. For Happy Rhodes, Ectotrophia is a fantastic compilation of her music from the 80’s which laid down her foundations of soaring vocals, carefully laid synth melodies and riffs and layer upon layer of ghostly backing vocals. The result is a superb introduction to a lady that appears to have been cruelly underlooked for for massive talents.
The first thing you’ll notice as the album opens with ‘Oh the Drears’ is how Happy Rhodes’ voice spans 4 entire octaves. This means she’ll be happy bellowing deep eerie oohs and lyrics, or rising her voice as high as a certain Kate Bush. In her higher octave, she sounds identical to the British pop queen and that’s a compliment. In ‘I Cannot Go On’, her voice is so much like Bush in the Lionheart/Never For Ever eras it is uncanny. Fortunately, the comparisons stop there because Happy Rhodes rarely spends an entire song in the same register or octave. A rare example where she does is the beautiful folk ballad ‘Would That I Could’ which could be off The Kick Inside with ease if you didn’t know any better.
Where Happy Rhodes truly distinguishes herself is with her song arrangements and style. Her compositions sound like they want to be on the 4AD record label and remind me more of a synth-acoustic version of Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins, Unto Ashes or Qntal. Each track is full of dark yearning and gives the space to let the vocals shine without compromising on the melody. It’s a really difficult thing to do well and make an album consistently surprising but also feel direct. Very rarely is percussion used but when it does on ‘When The Rain Came Down’, it feels like a ritual. Elsewhere, ‘Id Love Is a Game, I Win’ and ‘Perfect Irony’ feel like Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil lost tracks. Other pieces like ‘Many Nights’, ‘Because I Learn’ and ‘Don’t Want To Hear It’ sound so before their time they could easily lead some of the
One other element I love throughout the album is the way all the synth work is interwoven with lush flowing guitar work. Sometimes it’s acoustic lullaby playing such as ‘I’ll Let You Go’ or it might be something more electric but utterly fitting. It’s the mix of natural guitar sounds and the eerie but soft synth arrangements that then back up Happy Rhodes’ fantastic voice that
With this being my first Happy Rhodes album, picking songs from her first four albums which were all recorded in church recording sessions between 1984-86, this feels like a complete album of its own right. You may want to sample this and then go nuts buying all four albums, which in hindsight I should have done myself. I absolutely adore this album and will be slowly going through her back catalogue. It’s so wonderful when you discover a new artist for yourself who has an extensive back catalogue to catch up on. A gem.
Recommended track: I Cannot Go On
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