A while back we covered dark pop artist Scarlett Taylor’s Crystal Poles EP. In that review, I noted its themes of hedonism, impulse, violence and the “darker side of indulgence”. These are things that Taylor remains interested in. She also remains fascinated by contrasts. Something which latest single “California Dreamin” digs into deeply.
Upfront, we have to acknowledge the obvious reference to The Mamas & the Papas classic “California Dreamin’”. A song which, with its brown leaves and grey skies, subverted the 1960’s “California sound”.
The California sound is often associated with acts like The Beach Boys. Artists who invoked the idyllic spirit of the state, especially its sunny beach culture and beauty.
Los Angeles, where Taylor is based, is a city of contrasts. Especially in the popular imagination. It’s characterised by Hollywood glitz and glamour; a sun-drenched paradise where beautiful people flourish in beachfront properties.
But it’s also a hive of excess, crime, exploitation and broken dreams. And Taylor is an artist who really taps into this. It’s telling that the opening shots of the video for “California Dreamin” go from disco ball to Taylor observing her glamorous self in a mirror to her stirring in a sports car, blood trailing from her lips.
Honestly, this sequence immediately put me in mind of another classic. Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines. A video game entrenched in L.A.’s dark side, where influential predators clash and conspire when the sun goes down.
Again…contrasts. Beyond the aesthetics, Taylor paints a picture of inner turmoil. A confrontation with her inner and outer landscapes. “Step into the penthouse. I’m living on my own now. It’s been a lonely road runnin’ from traumas and the people I love most”.
Sports cars, silk sheets and bags of dollar bills. None of which can dispel the darkness looming over the city’s lush hills.
It’s also interesting that in the video, Taylor occasionally sports a mask one would proudly wear during The Purge. A fake plastic smile, heavy make-up. Threatening, unsettling; beauty contorted by an undercurrent of violence.
Musically, “California Dreamin” is pretty direct. Sustained chords and Taylor’s smooth alluring vocals are its pillars. The synths create tension from the start, but it’s never overbearing. Taylor’s voice, silky and rich, picks you up like a river. Every lyric, every theme is open to you.
She never misses a beat and neither will you. Scarlett Taylor continues to tap a vibrant blood red vein of dark Americana.
You can find Scarlett Taylor here: