We Used to Dream Awake appears to take a retrospective look at childhood, sounding both fond and sombre in nature. It casts an eye back to the brief and wondrous romances, the triviality of day to day concerns and the playful energy that gradually start to pale and discolour through adult life, and while its brittle emotion and melodic simplicity lend themselves to these reflections of youth, there’s also a sense of weariness that arises as such memories bring present age into perspective.
Out of the five tracks, “Jeugd” is by far the most endearing. As with the rest of the EP, drums come as one-dynamic, programmed punches – lending more to emphasis than any real momentum – while dry, clean guitars are plucked and strummed through a series of simple, ballad-like progressions. Here, the balance between genuine emotion and disarming pop is at its most harmonious, with the “catchier” elements forming a deliberately translucent veil through which a deeper sadness can be subtly perceived. But even the release’s finest cut becomes unstuck with an outro that gradually sheds the heartfelt nature of its earlier gestures – drums resort to the beats and handclaps of any post-millennium indie cliché, while the closing melody dilutes the charming flow of the track’s first half into a hollow four-chord cycle.
And while the lyrics initially carry a certain sweetness in their sweeping emotional statements, their naivety begins to leave a craving for something of genuine poetic substance after too long. Lines such as “We said we should try again one more time / Give us a chance to save what we built together” feel possessive of a greeting card genericism, and can’t help but bounce dispassionately off the surface instead of sinking in. It’s not until the closing two minutes of closer “Love + Hate” that He Died While Hunting start to reconnect again, swelling with inflections of distortion slipping in behind the cleaner jangles (think Cocteau Twins’ gooey melancholy), although these brief glimmers of goodness are ultimately far too intermittent.