The youthful and burgeoning queer icon makes uncharacteristic stumbles on his 2nd EP and follow-up to 2018’s Bloom.
Soaring high on the critical success of his second LP but knocked down to Earth by the gravity of the planet’s coronavirus pandemic, 25-year old Australian singer-songwriter Troye Sivan has stumbled into a new release. As one of the few pop artists with his caliber of success and openness about his homosexuality, Sivan’s “In A Dream” EP presents another opportunity to contribute to a new and rapidly developing queer consciousness.
“Dream” continues Sivan’s relatively steady turn away from the likes of Top 40 dance-pop to embrace a more restrained indie-pop sound that was first found on Bloom. The 80s production and filtering on the standout track “Easy” show newfound confidence from the burgeoning pop star, now no longer so insecure as to cake his sound in blaring synths, but willing to embrace softer moments and display the vulnerability that Popstars like him often risk losing. Sivan is learning how to use contrast to bring his listeners on a sonic ride with highs and lows, and not hide behind a wall of sound. The soft acoustic opening of “Take Yourself Home” winding toward a sharp electronic ending is a welcome, stark contrast to the merciless loudness of 2015’s “Youth.”
The scenery of sexuality is notably toned down as well, no more blissful “tastes” of lucky strikes or inexperienced trips to “gardens,” but real wrangling with the nuances of queer love: “You got all the muscles and the features I want / …Everything I’m not / But could I still be a hunk to you?” As quarantine forces people of all creeds to social media for contact, Sivan’s self-image as a gay man has been tainted by this new prolonged exposure to the digital distortions of Instagram.
Sivan does take a puzzling number of missteps over the course of his brief EP, however. From the inexplicable inclusion of an interlude on a 19 minute EP to the lyrical atrocities of “Stud”: “Hey, tough / What’s it like to be so big and strong / And so buff?” The unusually dull lyricism continues on the vacuous midtempo “Rager Teenager!”: “I just wanna sing loud / I just wanna lose myself in a crowd”. It’s moments like these that make it seem that he’s using the production to do the heavy lifting to paint his scene for him while phoning in on what has been his highlight as an artist.
The EP, despite all of these faults, ends on one of the highlights of Sivan’s musical career with the hypnotic title track. Unfolding like a cinematic montage, Sivan glides through slick, acoustic guitar-driven electropop with energy and comfort, a delightful surprise given his occasional tendency to suck the energy out of dance tracks like his Ariana Grande duet “Dance to This”. Still, the decision to pin “Take Yourself Home” as the EP’s opener and “Dream” as the closer adds the choppiness of the record, and raises further questions as to what led to such an underwhelming effort.