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Allie Crow Buckley fuses melancholic folk and dense electronics to beguiling effect on Utopian Fantasy

"Utopian Fantasy"

Release date: 19 May 2023
Allie Crow Buckley - Utopian Fantasy cover
20 May 2023, 09:00 Written by Joshua Mills

Allie Crow Buckley is at one with nature.

Her music videos tend to place her in a meadow, glade, or cliffside; she even features flower arrangement song pairings on her YouTube channel. Her shimmering voice is unaffected and bucolic. Utopian Fantasy’s great strength is contrasting this with a bed of diverse, but comfortingly warm electronics.

Opener “Greatest Hits” starts sparsely: a glowing four note keyboard pattern and Buckley’s cooing vocals. But soon the scope expands with a meaty drum programme and heavy bass. Buckley adds to this by clipping her voice over the beat, as though sampling herself. None of this detracts from the pastoral aura, though: every synth is carefully selected for its physical, analogue tone. “Angel” seems to be built around a Stylophone; this is electronic music you can touch.

For all that, the star of the show is Buckley herself. She gives a terrifically pitched performance, simultaneously free from histrionics or irony. On “Angel” she sings “you’re my ride or die / and I’m your angel, right?,” breaking hearts by way of a singular question mark. She’s reserved but never detached, and knows when to keep things simple, structuring the downtempo title track around a series of melodic sighs. There’s something of Mezzanine-era Massive Attack to the record, and Buckley shares some mystical qualities with Elizabeth Fraser at times.

While Utopian Fantasy does live mostly in pensive places, the moments when it swells are some of its best. “Dreamboat Soulmate” is the record’s most immediate cut, with a great rise to a soaring, harmonised chorus. Twinkling chimes are eventually swamped by buzzing bass as Buckley gives over to the object of her affection (“Dreamboat soulmate / I’ll do whatever you say”). Buckley has spoken of dark folklore and pagan influences on the album and has even covered Black Sabbath (“Changes”, but still) on a 2019 EP. Much of Utopian Fantasy is a babbling brook of a record - when the current picks up, like “Cowboy In London”’s freewheeling Stylophone soloing, it’s all the more exciting for its scarcity.

Combining measured vocals, a powerfully direct performance, and a soundscape that can go from delicate to thumping, Utopian Fantasy is an album of real vision and purpose. Allie Crow Buckley has created a deep forest of a record, and it’s one you’ll be happy to get lost in.

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