Welcome Strawberry - Welcome Strawberry (Album Review)

Two of the most intriguing states of mind are the hypnopompic, when you first wake up, and the hypnogogic, right before falling asleep. These moments often provide a mix of the waking and dream world, and Descartes noted it was when he did his best philosophizing. While they appear to be similar, two completely different functions, yet to be entirely understood, are taking place. On their self-titled debut, Oakland shoegazers Welcome Strawberry serve washed-out haze alongside more lucid song-based compositions in both hypnogogic and hypnopompic fashion. 

Welcome Strawberry first came to the attention of No Transmission earlier this year with the excellent single "No One Online", which we said "might have sounded like a pastiche of MBV if (they) hadn't brought their rough personality to the sound." Their self-titled debut album has been released, revealing a pop sensibility and fondness for romance not apparent in the edgier single. A project led by Cyrus VandenBerghe (guitar, voice, synth) and Daniel Baylis (drums, percussion, and a guitar contribution), the album features a host of vocal contributors and a classic lo-fi but healthy sound. 

"The World Is Derived From Pleasure" opens the album with a scurry of hi-hats, Reichian vocal delay, and steadfast bass. Sounding like an even more scope-conscious Secret Machines or Launder, Tame Impala echoes in the too-cool-for-school, rhythm-focused, psychedelic rock. However, the album doesn't maintain the speed set by the opening tracks. 

The luscious "Prettier Than You", with its themes of cross-dressing and jealousy, dreamy staccato acoustic, phased tones, and spacey drums, is played quite satisfyingly. Yet similar sentiments only sometimes work. The vocal-heavy "The Stream Guides Me Along" and "Hooted Oraloo" hit some pleasant moments but also some unpleasant notes and accentuations. It's a little jarring; Welcome Strawberry sound like an art-school band one moment, a catholic-school band the next. That said, even the less desirable tracks here feature alluring guitar (notably bass) work. The production is cosy across the album's 11 songs, and gusto is present throughout, even on the lovely mid-tempo emo rock of "You In Your Rare Ugliness" or the tasty bubblegum dream pop of "Can't Fall". 

The stellar highlight "Harvest Apartments" makes one wonder what an album of more restive songs would've achieved. When the group play from the inside out (by which I mean putting mood before meaning), they find intoxicating atmospheres for their candy-sweet songs. However, when the sauce is too sugary, like the cringy closing track "Rebecca", it's a little hard not to feel resentful towards a band you know is capable of hitting exhilarating heights. 

"Welcome Strawberry" is a debut album that deserves a deep dive to recover the treasures you find, bringing them to the surface to enjoy whenever you wake up; or fall asleep.