Numero Group’s press release for Ectotrophia, a compilation of long-out-of-print tracks by dream pop solo act Happy Rhodes, mentions that the artist’s vocals and neoclassical stylistic flairs “are [often] favorably compared to heralded English chanteuse Kate Bush.” This can be nothing short of a sensational understatement. If you were to play Ectotrophia to a room of like-minded music nerds and tell them it was a collection of unreleased Bush demos from her Never For Ever sessions, or maybe even a heretofore lost collaboration with Dead Can Dance, no one would think to question you. The similarities are unavoidable: she sounds identical to Kate Bush, and even occasionally flirts with similar lyrical fancies like psychology and Shakespeare.
But more often than not, Rhodes’ subjects are of a more terrestrial nature than Bush’s whimsies. A sizable majority of Ectotrophia’s lyrical content is dedicated to lovesick mooning; sometimes this expresses itself cleverly (“Would that I could, I’d be serving my Titania/Would that I could, I’d be loving my Oberon” is a graceful highlight), but too often her songs are less in the vein of Byronesque odes to heartbreak than they are clumsy teenage pouting. Her lyrics rarely clash with her pastoral darkwave atmospherics, but also rarely do they add much to them. One can’t help but feel that, given how portentous the music comes across, an opportunity was missed to have it say something slightly more meaningful or memorable.
This is not to say that the album is entirely joyless or self-serious. Some of the best tracks on Ectotrophia prove to be its sunniest. “When The Rain Came Down” is surely the album’s centerpiece; it’s uniquely percussive by the standards of Rhodes’ other music, slowly building sonic layers on top of each other until it becomes a blissful surge of art-pop revelry. The triumphant synth-driven “Many Nights” is incredibly catchy, and “Oh The Drears,” in spite of what its title might have you believe, is enveloping and determined, melancholic without being depressive. There are deeply stirring, darkly bucolic moments of magic to be had in this collection.
Ectotrophia is ultimately a gumbo of moody 1980s musical staples, and as such it’s impossible to disentangle it from comparisons with its contemporaries. Sometimes this lack of novelty weakens the experience of Rhodes’ work, but its lush, high-minded sonics also pleasantly remind one why this era’s tropes and styles are currently so in vogue among modern producers and artists. While nothing groundbreaking, this compilation remains a worthy dive into an engrossingly somber state of mind.
Christopher M. Jones is a comic book writer, pop culture essayist, and recovering addict and alcoholic living in Austin, TX. He currently writes for Loser City as well as Comics Bulletin and has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators for his minicomic Written in the Bones (illustrated by Carey Pietsch). He has also been published in The Establishment. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.