In Jenn Wasner’s other duo, Wye Oak, she creates diaphanous indie-rock that draws from shoegaze, the 4AD catalog and other similarly echoing sonic caverns. Despite their subterranean name, Dungeonesse isn’t like that. Instead, Wasner and fellow multi-instrumentalist Jon Ehrens craft synthpop that’s neon-lit and glaring in the places where Wye Oak is sepia-toned and shadowy. This is effervescent fantasy music that’s escapist in the best way, but still grounded in the realities that inspire the pair’s liberating flights of fancy.
Case in point: first single “Drive You Crazy.” Its skittering beats and candy-colored keys frame a chorus that wouldn’t sound out of place on Top 40 radio, but the verses itemize the kind of adult responsibilities chart pop typically denies: “Because I’ve got my bills, because I hate my job/ And I don’t know if I will ever be fulfilled,” Wasner sings with a trill and a sigh. The duo may draw sonically from Gaga/Beyoncé-world, but they’re clearly outsiders: Wasner’s womanly country twang compliments the pair’s urbanities, suggesting a hypothetical boho big sis to Taylor Swift. In the glistening ballad “Wake Me Up,” she flits from a throaty Annie Lennox-like alto to an airy Joni Mitchell soprano as slo-mo synths sparkle and hum. Although their budding production skills reference contemporary pop more than fully embrace it, Wasner and Ehrens’s songwriting nails the genre’s efficiency: “Show You” and “Private Party” are upfront and instantly pleasurable. Dungeonesse don’t get particularly deep, nor do they need to: Their shiny surfaces reflect all the necessary heat.