A sorry-for-the-wait EP meant to hold over anyone waiting for Echosmith’s delayed second album.
Inside a Dream is a sorry-for-the-wait EP meant to hold over anyone waiting for Echosmith’s delayed second album, apparently called the same thing. It’s such a monumental improvement over its predecessor, even doubters would be forgiven for getting pumped for the forthcoming full-length. In fact, if Echosmith slotted these seven songs alongside seven of comparable quality on the album, we might even be rewarded with a pretty good pop record on the horizon.
Echosmith came up during the Pandora-fueled peak of indie pop, and the songs on their debut album Talking Dreams could be distinguished by what other semi-chic, semi-superstar act they ripped off: the xx, Young the Giant, you name it. They had a modest hit with “Cool Kids,” but the indie pop fad’s passed them by, they’ve had to improvise, and Inside a Dream finds them conjuring the landscape of the ‘80s, when pop music had the most pronounced sense of place.
Gentle synth pads generate amniotic warmth. Faintly Italo sequencers hover overhead. Disco beats shuffle along complacently. The overall impression is of a neon-lit night drive. Perhaps we could think of Echosmith as a kiddie Chromatics, but to their credit, they steer clear of obvious ‘80s reference points. If an eccentric synth brings to mind Kate Bush, or if the insistent wall of guitars on “18” suggests the budget Wall of Sound on Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever, it doesn’t feel so much by design as by some conduit with the universal language of that decade.
It’s not a commercially obvious gambit, and it suggests perhaps Echosmith find it smart to move into the same artisan-pop territory as Carly Rae Jepsen, whose collaborations with Dev Hynes and Ariel Rechtshaid on Emotion conjure a similar rose-tinted mood. But though Inside a Dream is staggering compared to what came before it, Echosmith still feels far from greatness.
Their lyrics haven’t matured much from the horrendous “All the cool kids/ They seem to fit in” couplet on their biggest hit; “Lessons” is especially cloying in how it tries to smuggle the titles of pop perennials into its verses. Sydney Sierota sings dutifully and has yet to give any indication of being a great singer—though this is a family band managed by Sierota’s dad and consisting of her and two of her siblings.
And would it kill these bands to end a song on a chord? One of the most irksome trends in pop is songs’ tendencies to cut off at the end of the bar rather than end with a big concluding chord or fade out or do something cool, and it all but kills the momentum of “Get into My Car.” Is it supposed to imply that the song never resolves? Is it laziness stemming from the fact that so much pop is recorded into Logic Pro or Pro Tools and it’s easiest to end a song by ending the loop?
Still, this is about the best direction they could have taken, especially considering the alternatives: Quavo-assisted trap bangers? Strummy authenticity country? Chainsmokers-style EDM lite? Each of these gambits could have led to far better sales but much worse music. The new Echosmith sound corrects the flaws of their old music and points to something promising, and its problems feel less like flies in the ointment than kinks the band still has time to work out.