Out just in time for autumn, Vancouver-based songwriter Dust Cwaine has brought the weird, whimsical, and wonderful with their debut album, Arcana. Beyond their self-defined label as a “nonbinary aromantic ghost,” Dust also has a history in Vancouver’s drag scene, one that lives on not only in the album art, but Dust’s radically warm & open approach to queer identity.
Arcana’s first single “90’s Darling,” premiered back in the summer. It was also accompanied by a music video featuring retro filters and snapshots of a pre-Y2K childhood, running amok outdoors and enjoying Ring Pops. The love of the 1990s is present in the song itself, as well–the soft, yet poppy approach makes the track not only sweet and nostalgic, but especially catchy. There’s no shortage of nostalgia in the lyrics, either, which shout out everything from the VCR to Tamagotchis.
“Where [90’s Darling] sits in the album acknowledges the therapy and work it takes to acknowledge and embrace the pain to allow the light and silliness back in,” Dust said about the track in an Instagram post. “Yes it’s nostalgic, yes it’s catchy, it also reaches into our memories in a familiar but new way.”
The album’s second single, “Aliens in LA,” continues the nostalgia, but harkens back further, into the 1980s. The result? Synthy, dancey, and hypnotically neon. With metaphors of alien bodies and some other lyrics about standing up to exclusion–“They can’t stop our stellar love” and “They’ll say that it’s wrong, but we don’t wanna belong” come to mind especially–the track almost immediately comes off as a queer anthem. However, queer as Arcana may be, this track actually holds another inspiration: a sort of celestial body positivity.
“I was devoured by the memory of going to LA as a plus sized person and how that made me feel,” Dust wrote in an Instagram post. “I constantly want to feel empowered and not judged but that just isn’t always the case. This song takes that back for me, and I hope for you.”
As for the rest of Arcana, it’s equally profound, a deep dive into self-reflection, self-discovery, and self-love. Dust themself describes it as “Nostalgia Pop Naval Gaze for Grown Theatre Kids,” a niche I didn’t know we needed until now. Additionally, if the singles didn’t give it away, listeners are in for a variety of genres and tempos, with a primarily acoustic sound that occasionally makes some exciting forays into the electronic.
The album opens with its title track, a slow, reflective piece. Laden with spiritual symbolism, it calls to a variety of tarot cards, from The Tower to the Ten of Swords, painting a bittersweet image of someone at a low point but fighting to be better. Even if you’re not particularly spiritual, I think we can all relate to “put out the fires/on all of my bridges” and other such lines.
Other tracks also manage that delicate balance of the niche and the relatable–for example, “In The End” opens with the very specific image of sharing a cigarette at Burning Man, but that chorus? “Searching for the missing piece of my soul/Looking forever, calling nowhere home.” It’s a wonderfully universal sentiment. Additionally, even in such emotionally charged tracks, Dust isn’t afraid to let nostalgic references shine through, cheekily referencing LEGO blocks in one verse.
Additionally, each track has a lyric video available, featuring a variety of scenes, from texts between trends to swimming in rivers, reflecting the meanings & textures of the songs they’re attached to. Song after song, an aspect of personal struggle or insecurity is deconstructed and rebuilt again, wrapped in charmingly catchy melodies, quirky lyrics, and a nostalgic indie pop sound.
(Seriously, that hook in “Innuendo” is going to be stuck in my head for ages.)