Ever heard of a band with a mascot? Well, now you have! Pastel Dynasty “was created initially by Harrison Stringer and Jack Thornton” in August 2018 when “Harrison and Jack, who is [their] main producer and audio engineer, were brainstorming ideas together” and began to write. “Sam Thornton (bass) came along shortly after,” and “since then, everything has [fallen] into place. [Pastel Dynasty] acquired Darnell Woods [the] DJ/percussionist shortly after getting together” and the group quickly began playing shows.
The group’s extra member, a paper mache mannequin, is proof of Pastel Dynasty’s goofy nature. Citing a love of video games (“We are always willing to play with other people and our fans!”), Pastel Dynasty has even incorporated their hobby into their music in the form of samples, including the sounds of Pokemon leaf green on Gameboy, Dark Souls, and Armored Core. The group has also used non-gaming sounds such as scraping forks on ceramic tiles, breaking wine bottles, AC units starting, trains, and party favors.
As fun-loving as Pastel Dynasty is, their latest album, Gutter Chapter, wasn’t inspired by this energy, but “the good and bad sides of the music industry. The songs [they] wrote as well as the idea for the name of the album” were inspired by the “sort of a dark place [they came from] right before [starting] this band.” Pastel Dynasty is treating Gutter Chapter as a sort of new beginning, but also as a way of healing and understanding the life of an independent artist.
The first track of Gutter Chapter is a mouthful: “Black Goat of the Woods and a Thousand Young.” Its grungy guitar lines and obscured vocals emphasize the band’s Shoegaze roots, while mellow basslines and energetic percussion give it a feel of its own. The dusky lyrics suit Pastel Dynasty’s dark inspirations, “Lights go up in the city / When I start to breathe / Soulless mass, devoid of pity / Then I plant the seed / Nobody knows what I really am / Remember who you are….” Besides being well-phrased, the lyrics are enhanced by the breathiness of the track’s vocal tones and its overall effects. The grimy, ethereal aesthetic of “Black Goat of the Woods and a Thousand Young” is a strong introduction to the themes of the album.
“Ten” has an undeniable tension to it from the very first note. Echoing guitar notes and hints of sooty bass lead the track into a tiptoeing start before exploding into a wave of sound that is the chorus. The bassline during this section is appealingly dirty and effortless, the perfect low-end accompaniment to the full high end of this track thanks to distorted guitar lines and melting vocals. The percussion lines of the song fade in and out with perfect timing to create a sense of urgency behind the free-flowing layers of guitars and vocals, giving the track tangible depth. “Ten” is the perfect example of every group member in a band pulling their weight to create a song that defines the sound of an album.
The bass and percussion of “The Works” create a driving force that allows the song to surge forward. Pastel Dynasty plays with space in this track, creating pockets of intensity and easing out of them in a way that makes the song feel familiar, but brand new all at once. The disorientation of familiarity being turned on its head creates a pleasing rub throughout the track as its fullness comes in waves. The bassline and guitar riffs of this track work particularly well together, as do the vocal harmonies that glide over the high end. The percussion of “The Works” is pleasantly light in comparison, keeping the track balanced and steady throughout its tempo changes and mood shifts.
The digital effects are laid a bit heavier in “Serpent King” than in other tracks, taking the heat off the bass to create the aesthetic of the song and placing the responsibility elsewhere. This creates a pleasing juxtaposition in the song order and prevents ear fatigue on the listeners’ end. The lighter instrumental touch of “Serpent King” also allows the vocals and percussion to move into the forefront. Well-placed clicking beats and cymbal touches provide a complex listening experience, proving that Pastel Dynasty’s percussionist knows what he’s doing. The vocals are consistent with the other tracks of Gutter Chapter, well-pitched, well-phrased, and feature well-written lyrics: “You’re something else / I’m in heaven or hell / I think you’re dear to me / But you’re dead to yourself / I push you down / But maybe I’ll let you drown.”
The introduction to “Mr. Scary” features a spoken word section from the point of view of its namesake: “Welcome to my mortuary / I’m Mr. Scary… / No, you can’t prepare me….” The solid rhymes of each ending line creates a stilted, rhythmic feeling despite the goofy nature of “Mr. Scary” introducing himself. In this way, “Mr. Scary” suits the serious-yet-fun nature of Pastel Dynasty as a band. That being said, because it is far more electronic and EDM-based than its fellow tracks, “Mr. Scary” is not my favorite song of the album. Although its musical themes are present in many of Pastel Dynasty’s other songs, I prefer just a touch of digital sweeping and beats, and “Mr. Scary” is full of them, with just hints of instrumentals. In this way, it serves as a bit of an interlude in the course of the album, but would likely appeal to listeners who enjoy music that bends genres in such a way.
“Anthame” brings back some of my favorite elements of Pastel Dynasty’s music. Although it is lighter and calmer than many of the previous tracks, it still has a murkiness about it that marks its shoegaze roots. The flowing, relaxed basslines mellow out higher guitar tones, backed by lightly clicking and tapping percussion. The vocals retain their ethereal, dream pop vibe, but lyrics are easier to enjoy in “Anthame” thanks to its lighter backing: “Everything I’ve loved has turned me away / And I’m not sure where you’re going / Tonight I feel so bold / I see you, you’re so predictable / Infantile, and so resistible / There’s so many things / And I can have ’em all / A little less involved / There are eyes on the ceiling / They roll back, I lose all feeling / I’m sure they’ve told you….”
The warm bass tone of the well-written riffs in “Grapes” invites listeners right in. The track offers an interesting mix of electronic tones and instrumentals that bridges the gap between the genres that Pastel Dynasty is influenced by. The spacing between the quieter sections and the portions of the track with screeching guitar tones and dramatic, quick percussion is well done and creates a free-flowing energy that makes “Grapes” unique from the other songs on the album.
“Take Me. Tear Me.” is another song that bends the definition of Pastel Dynasty’s style. It begins with a tickle of instrumentals accompanied by the strobing sounds of a neon sign. These create a dramatic picture in the mind that the lyrics jump in to continue in dragging, ballad-laced lines. Due to their dramatic delivery, many are hard to understand, but the sound of the vocals alone are satisfactory for the track even if every word isn’t audible. In fact, the vocals of “Take Me. Tear Me.” are an instrument all their own that serves to bridge the gap between every other featured in the track.
“Metakosmia” is the dramatic final song of Gutter Chapter, and a bittersweet farewell for now. Creeping guitar lines and echoes of melodramatic bass accompany emotional, heart-wrenching vocals and melancholy percussion through the track as it flows through sections fast and slow. Each bar of the track’s 4:09 running time exhibits Pastel Dynasty’s innate talents of creating mood and building tension, resulting in a well-balanced, well-chosen track to round out Gutter Chapter‘s lineup with a solid bang.
Pastel Dynasty will be going on a west coast tour in January 2020, which will start in Dallas, Texas, and end in Seattle, Washington. They have plans to release their next album in November 2019, and would love to collaborate with other artists for their upcoming music.