For Tracy Hyde wrap boundless optimism in idyllic memories of 90s America on ‘Ethernity’
For Tracy Hyde is not your average Japanese shoegaze band. In Ethernity, the dream pop quintet defy genre and thematic expectations, openly taking on political themes and merging them with their classic ethereal sound to produce an album that is as uneasy as it is transcendental. For Tracy Hyde’s first three albums were geared more towards Japanese youngsters and were more cinematic and J-Pop in nature. But with their fourth album, Ethernity, For Tracy Hyde turn their sights to America and the West, where guitarist Azusa Suga, who wrote the songs on the album, grew up.
Ethernity is sure to delight fans and listeners, but it also comes with its share of surprises. The album title, Ethernity implies enough. “Ethernity,” a portmanteau of “ether” and “eternity” (and perhaps “ethereal” as well), gives us a sense of what to expect. The definitions of “ether” and “eternity” cue us in to the direction of the album–the boundless optimism–but also the soaring nature of it, high up in the clouds and unobstructed by time or expectations. The hidden meaning built into the title of the album gives listeners a clue as to the hidden layers of meaning and thought woven throughout.
The America of the 1990s that For Tracy Hyde sing about in Ethernity is an America that, by and large, no longer exists. But it makes for a great dream pop album theme. In laying out their ode of an America that existed in the past, they juxtapose it to the current state of American affairs and communicate a meaningful awareness of the boundaries of the genre in which they operate. It’s worth noting that this dreamy-eyed rendition of the United States was composed last year, in 2020. It makes for an interesting, albeit shocking, juxtaposition of a nation divided by both time and fondness.
The most refreshing part of the album is its authentic lack of cynicism, which is something many people, including myself, may be hard-pressed to find, or even believe in, in this day and age. The dream-like atmospheres that lead singer eureka creates through her ethereal vocals forms a spiritual world that is lovely to escape to. Yet it’s a reality that cannot last. What we looked back on with fondness is no longer here.
There’s an uneasy feeling that sits beneath some songs in the album. The album opens with an unnerving touch that weaves a dissonant undertone into the fabric of the album. “Dream Baby Dream (Theme for Ethernity)” starts with a single D – peaceful enough – before a G# is added four seconds later. This creates a tritone, the most dissonant interval you can create with just two notes. This dissonance persists for 11 seconds before For Tracy Hyde enters the room, putting an end to the uneasy feeling.
The rest of the album is classic For Tracy Hyde–haunting, bright and lovely. Yet throughout the album you’ll also find traces of music and clips that will make you tilt your head and go, “Huh?” For example, for most of “Interdependence Day (Part 2),” you will hear a clip of Barack Obama giving his July 4th speech in his final year as president. There are mentions of Blockbuster, the now-defunct video rental store. And in their music video for “Interdependence Day (Part 1),” you will see clips of wartime soldiers and America flags faded into the background, which at first may cause some hesitation. They heavily sample from American suburban experiences and pop culture, like in “Chewing Gum USA,” which has more of a grunge flavor, and “City Limits,” which carries country music influences and a banjo playing in the background.
The rest of the sonic texture is magnificent and sublime, so much so that you may lose yourself in it. Something ominous seems to lurk in the background–not completely defined yet still present. There’s that subliminal consciousness of the reality of American life: of the drugs, violence and sex that pervade suburban life and parts of the culture. Far behind the boundless optimism lies a burgeoning awareness of the horrors of the world, of an adulthood not yet fully realized. In this time and place, they seem to be saying, we can be free. We can escape. And it is this portrait of adolescence devoid of angst that feels both deeply liberating and original.
I wasn’t sure whether to accept or deny the unease I felt seeing these images or hearing these clips. As an Asian American, I view America with quite some cynicism, and the America painted in the album was a little too dreamy-eyed a way for me to view the country. But reflecting on the nature of the genre, I suppose that’s the point. This musical realm is just a dream, not a reality.
Why did For Tracy Hyde decide to turn their sights to America with this album? Perhaps it’s their way of expressing compassion for the state of the world without losing sight of their own identity. But regardless of intention, it is an America that by and large exists in nostalgic memories of years past, a nostalgia that may be sweet but hard to envision in lieu of today’s sociopolitical climate.
For Tracy Hyde’s fourth album, Ethernity, is out now via P-Vine Records.
Johan Qin is a writer based in Northern California. He is also a musician, artist, and avid fan of Asian pop music.