Sleep doesn’t come easily for me. It never has. Since I was a kid, I’ve always had problems getting to sleep and staying asleep. It’s a very rare night that I don’t wake up sometime between one and three in the morning with my thoughts racing out of control, and once that happens the only thing I can do is let them run their course, whatever that may be. Zen Zsigo, the visionary behind Cremation Lily, also seems to suffer from the same problems, only he channels it into good use on the latest from the ambient, gazey project, Dreams Drenched in Static.
Dreams Drenched in Static, the project’s debut for new label The Flenser, is heavily influenced by sleep, or lack thereof. Written over the course of many sleepless nights and all-too-early mornings, the album focuses conceptually on the liminal space between sleep and wakefulness and the disturbing thoughts that sometimes occupy that microcosm. The lyrics are meant to be reflections on death and depression, which often goes hand in hand with a rough, sleepless night and are meant to capture the what happens in the brain during a REM disturbance. Musically, the album once again features Zsigo’s unique and unmatched songwriting on his brand of one-of-a-kind instruments, like circuit-bent keyboards, purposefully weathered tape loops and Dictaphones, cassette Walkman and more, and while the lyrics draw from sleep and sleep disturbance, the music of the album also pulls from a different source: a near-drowning that happened to Zsigo back in 2015. Says Zsigo, “I was swimming in the sea when the tide was high and an undercurrent dragged me underneath the water…light and sound, all around me. Luckily, I was smashed against some rocks underwater and used them to claw my way back to shore. I had cuts all over my body. For weeks afterwards I had that light and sound surrounding me. It’s a very distinct sensation, not unpleasant, but completely alien.” There is a lot of thematic overlap between drowning and restless sleep, and Dreams Drenched manages to perfectly capture that, in a way that literally only Zsigo can.
Even the production on Dreams Drenched manages to tie into the themes of the album. “The processing on the album and the concept of it is a product of how it was made. After expressing pain and suffering in the recording of the songs, I was often completely numb and felt like all I could do at times was process vocal stems via cassette or record gentle streams to layer over the album. The LP’s fractured mood comes from that more than anything,” comments Zsigo. The most incredible things about Dreams Drenched is how it comes together to form something much greater than the sum of its parts, even though those parts on their own are pretty damn good. Emo, metal, electronica, ambient, trip hop, rock and folk all blend together as vehicles to convey mood, and even though these influences might seem like stark contrasts to each other, nothing feels forced or out of place. Rather, the tension comes from the washes of static and just-barely out of tune notes that ring out and occasionally clash with the gentle melodies and delicate touches of field recordings that make up the bulk of the soundscape. There is a perfect balance of eerie dissonance and entrancing melodicism that makes this a completely immersive experience, with “experience” being the key phrase. Dreams Drenched is an album that absolutely begs to be listened to with the best quality headphones you can get, all in one sitting, with no distractions.
There is truly nothing out there that sounds like Cremation Lily, and Dreams Drenched in Static proves that “unique” only barely scratches the surface of what Zsigo can do. Obviously, insomnia and near-drowning are not inherently good things, but at the very least they’re channeled into something that is wonderfully gorgeous, immediately accessible, altogether strange and profoundly moving.