With ‘In a Dream,’ Troye Sivan Takes on a New Level of Nuance

Australia’s Troye Sivan was only 12-years-old when he released his debut EP, 2007’s “Dare to Dream.” He came out as gay at just age 14, and instantly became an important voice for Gen Z, representing a new era of openness. Sivan’s music has always been open about his sexuality, and has evolved steadily to reflect his age. His 2015 debut album “Blue Neighborhood” was full of gay bops, but a relatively innocent affair, while his followup, 2018’s “Bloom,” found him taking more liberties with his subject matter. Sivan’s new EP, “In a Dream,” finds him, now age 25, with an unprecedented composure. There is more contemplation to his lyrics, while still plenty of the indulgent energy that characterized his earlier work, along with production that brings his music to a new level.

Opener and lead single “Take Yourself Home” expresses the inevitable change of heart that one might expect from a young star on his third album. The opening lines, “I’m tired of the city, scream if you’re with me,” refer to Sivan’s disillusionment with LA and return to his hometown of Melbourne, Australia. Sivan sings in a hushed, layered voice, keeping a sluggish cool, rather than descending into full despair, and the music takes on a celebratory spirit upon the chorus. The beat picks up momentum, and gets a slight house kick, as Sivan finally resolves, “Take yourself home.” Then, at the very end, the song takes a surprising turn, and develops into full dance fare with an outro that finds Sivan leaving on a high note. 

Sivan has a knack for turning out polished pop tunes in the most effortless manner, and “Easy” is a prime example. His light, airy voice tone and serenity of manner alone is enough to carry the song, and the music takes shape around him, over a barebones beat. His vocals undergo plenty of processing, but without devolving into full Auto-tune lunacy. There are moments when Sivan sounds, quite randomly, like Wesley Miles of Ra Ra Riot, especially as on Miles’ side project Discovery, which featured similar elegant production. Lyrically, the song is an entreaty after an infidelity, encapsulated in the refrain “He made it easy / Please don’t leave me.”

“Could Cry Just Thinking About You” is a more whimsical inclusion than Sivan’s usual fare, a relatively lo fi track under a minute long, more of an interlude than a proper song. Led by an acoustic guitar, and full of texture, the song finds Sivan cloaked in reverb, making a series of declarations about his obsession, centering on the eponymous phrase. “STUD” follows naturally, as Sivan pines over dreamy, winding piano lines, his voice echoing and morphing up for fleeting moments. At this point, Sivan is expected to turn out gay anthems, and this is a new contender, with lyrics like “Hey tough, what’s it like to be so big and strong and so buff?” A hard-hitting beat drops and brings him back to familiar territory. Instead of continued singing, however, we get a thrillingly warbled abstraction, with Sivan’s breathy utterances flashing in snippets, shifting pitch wildly, and swirling faintly in the background, as if to convey the delirium of his infatuation.

On “Seventeen” from his last album, 2018’s “Bloom,” Sivan sang about lying about his age on gay dating app Grindr. All things considered, it’s no surprise that he now releases a single like “Rager Teenager!” The song finds him speaking to his former self from the perspective of the mellowed-out persona that appeared on “Take Yourself Home.” Over a spacious track of warm keyboards, he muses, “Hey, my little rager teenager / I’ve missed you around,” remembering youthful recklessness. While Sivan himself has admitted to singing about himself here, it’s safe to assume the target shifts as the track develops, giving way to lyrics like “I just wanna go wild… In your bed tonight.” By the end of the track, the music has swelled to grand proportions, with swirling synths and lush production with echoes of ‘70s prog excesses reimagined for the present moment. 

Sivan returns to upbeat pop for the title track, in which he explores his conflicted emotions after a breakup. He insists, “I won’t let you in again / I’m gonna lock the doors, and hide my shit,” but goes on to admit, “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever said,” as his former flame continues to show up “in a dream.” Sivan’s melody in the chorus bears a striking resemblance to that of Justin Timberlake’s “Mirrors,” although just for a moment. The song is punchy and packed with colorful synth sounds, and the choice to close the album with it seems to emphasize the idea of moving on, in spite of all the drama involved. 

“In a Dream” is easily Sivan’s most musically adventurous release to date. Sivan continues to turn out the pop bangers that he is known for, but he intersperses the upbeat tunes with more daring diversions than ever before. The jaded sentiments of “Take Yourself Home” are balanced out by the unabashed excesses of “STUD.” The two mentalities meet halfway on “Rager Teenager!” as the wisdom of age gives way to lustful abandon. Sivan’s voice sounds impeccable throughout, and the musical production does him more than justice, with adventurous turns and a new level of nuance. The LGBTQ references are as prominent as ever, making their way into every song, but having already devoted enough energy to celebratory anthems, Sivan takes a more introspective approach, and lets the anthemic spirit emanate more naturally. 

In a Dream” releases Aug. 21 on Apple Music.