Dreamboat, the solo project of Aaron Bergunder that has taken shape as an unabashed love letter to all things electronic, has emerged as one of the catchiest acts from Victoria’s music scene. His first two offerings, the 2007 album Dreamboat and the 2008 EP Fun Fools, are entertaining and movement-inducing tips of the cap to choppy electronic innovators of the early 1980s like The Human League, Soft Cell, and Yaz. He added just the right amount of introspection and despair on his two latest albums (2010’s Buddies and 2013’s Boy) to ensure a smart evolution into something akin to the memorably poignant Depeche Mode of the late 1980s. This impressive discography has been buttressed by scene-stealing live performances. I remember seeing him kink and strut, clad in short shorts and a leather bomber jacket, on the cramped stage at Victoria’s Lucky Bar. Long story short, Dreamboat is a veritable West Coast treasure.
As, at least to my knowledge, Bergunder doesn’t regularly release Dreamboat singles, his entire output offers many deep cuts to choose from. To sidestep a belabored process of selection, I’ll return to the point of my first contact: “Townies”. I remember sitting at home in the living room with an open laptop. My friend Stefan and I were passing it back and forth, cuing up new songs that we had heard by new bands that we had discovered during college semesters apart. Stefan mentioned that his friend Aaron, who had been involved with a few Victoria-based bands up to that point, had started a new project. He cued up “Townies”. I, as a longtime defender of the synthesizer, was intrigued.
Just he does on “Sunbathin’”, the album’s opener, Bergunder initially hedges his bets on “Townies” by establishing a beachy synthesized sheen. Such a move links his more obvious influences to an awareness of the nascent chillwave and lo-fi resurgences of the mid to late aughts. As a point of contrast, his vocals, which lightly muffle at certain points of enunciation, are welcomed as an organic break with the influences he channels.
Sequentially intensified by the staged introduction of inoffensive drum programming and prickly bass tones, the repetition of the first lyric – “I’ve been hopin’ I might see you around town” – allows for an intelligent deviation from a sole focus on the electronics. He is able to clarify that the song is to be, before all else, personal and based on a human relationship that has moved past a point of rupture: “‘Cause I lost you in the distance to a better man / And I could’ve forgiven you then but I didn’t”.
The pace picks up as civil observations are made of the other party in the aftermath of the separation: “Making yourself a better man, pushing yourself / You’ve been working yourself to be a harder man, you’ve been working yourself”. In compelling fashion, the pace again intensifies when accompanying a shift to hostility or feigned ambivalence: “What’s been different since you’ve been missing? / Just not talking, I guess that’s about it”.
The initial clusters of chorus and repetitions of verse are revisited in the track’s second half, underscoring the ambiguous and trapped flurry of emotion at hand. The various electronic elements used before simultaneously combine and clash during a movement towards conclusion. This lyric and musical structure undoubtedly points to a conveyed nebulosity of emotion. If we are to assume that the song’s title refers to the continued sharing of the same urban environment, it is possible to point out that what Bergunder successfully communicates is the conflict of emotions experienced after a separation paired with the repeated and contradictorily hopeful and fearful possibility of running into one another.
Although at the halfway point he avoids neglecting the understandable anger that surfaces in such situations by lashing out with a cynicism that falsely communicates the loss’s insignificance, on “Townies” Bergunder is able to narrate, within this consequence of geography, a supposed understanding of what went wrong and a bittersweet and speculative admission of the steps that weren’t taken. This is smart electronic music.
“Townies” – Dreamboat
Music and lyrics by Aaron Bergunder
B. Stafford is the 14th Floor’s Annex-based music critic.