Teen Daze’s 2012 full-length debut, All of Us, Together, was a vivid, shared dream, often beautiful but not especially complex. It latched onto the most obvious, recognizable parts of the chillwave craze with a vice grip, completely unburdened by vocals and anything that resembled an actual physical instrument. Despite hitting you over the head with its shimmering synths, it cast its own sort of spell.
On its surface, Morning World is not that kind of album. Vancouver, British Columbia native Jamison (just Jamison), the brains behind Teen Daze since 2010, has effectively been a solo artist up until this point, but here he employs the sounds of a full band. Morning World manages to move past the slick, suntanned euphoria that made All of Us, Together so easy to enjoy in the moment, but also easy to forget. Instead, it plants its flag firmly in the realm of nostalgia and a kind of childlike wonder that’s simultaneously more idealistic and slightly more complex, if not by too much. The cello strains in opener “Valley of Gardens” sound like they belong in the soundtrack to a children’s film about talking animals. By the muted closing echoes of “Good Night”, Morning World comes off as a kind of balm to the world’s injustices: It soothes, but it doesn’t offer any solutions.
In trading blissed-out, no-fucks-given chillwave for vulnerable, heart-on-sleeve shoegaze, Jamison is forced to thrust his lyrical skills into the spotlight — and they don’t often hold up to the newly harsh glare. “I want to believe this is forever,” he sings earnestly on “It Starts at the Water”, a song about new beginnings that plods along, eventually hitting a meek plateau. In place of the synths that Jamison employed when he was a loner noodling around in his bedroom, there are piano flourishes, guitar strumming, and the newly-minted frontman’s understated, breathy vocals. “Along” is a standout, alternating backing vocals with a kicked-back, almost jazzy beat under Jamison’s double-tracked voice. The jammy “You Said” invokes an altered, sun-drenched reality, adding a concrete bass line to the dreamy feeling that Jamison is so good at conjuring. “Life in the Sea” is quite pleasant, an optimistic slice of chamber pop fueled by major-key guitar notes that sound like they’re being played underwater and an inoffensive, repetitive chorus. The opening to “Post Storm” is refreshingly thunderous, but it plows on ahead as a purely ambient, instrumental piece, allowing Jamison to prove that he can, in fact, do more than loop noises in a computer program; he can also, when called for, shred.
Teen Daze’s latest effort is ultimately a pastoral that succeeds when it is allowed to gallop forward on the strength of its skilled instrumentation, and falters whenever Jamison opens his mouth. Never mind that he’s not an incredibly talented vocalist — plenty of masterful songwriters have managed to work around that particular shortcoming — but the nuances of his lyrics don’t pick up the slack. He’s at his best when he’s not crippled by cliches (for example: “I’ve come to watch the flowers as they grow,” from “Garden Grove”). It would be great to see him put someone else in the spotlight while he pulls the strings from behind, illustrating what his previous work has already proved to be true: Jamison does his best work behind the scenes.
Essential Tracks: “It Starts At The Water”, “Post Storm”, and “Along”