After nearly 30 years of studio silence, the neo-psychedelic titans Dream Syndicate have returned with a set of songs that shine as brightly as the sun of their native Los Angeles.
In this day and age, where technological and ideological development show no signs of slowing down, the trends of the past have become more and more revered for evoking a certain simplicity that we, as media consumers, just cannot seem to point out in our effervescing melting pot of music, movies, art, and culture. It’s imperative to keep in mind that simplicity does not necessarily indicate a lack of sophistication. What better proof of such a point than the new Dream Syndicate record, “How Did I Find Myself Here?” It was a question I asked myself when the album’s release first came to my attention—of all the bands to release reunion records this year, this album came to me by complete surprise—but a welcome surprise it was.
Emerging as one of the prime groups in the burgeoning Los Angeles “Paisley Underground” movement, the Dream Syndicate blew the California alternative scene away with their 1982 debut “The Days of Wine and Roses.” The album’s wall of sound guitar textures, both subtle and noisy, as well as front man Steve Wynn’s cryptic yet cinematic lyrics and Lou Reed-esque delivery, paid homage to acts such as the Velvet Underground, Neil Young and the Byrds. With a brand new line up, the band comes bearing similar fruits this time around.
The record opens up with “Filter Me Through You” with a sticky guitar lead and an upbeat tone, compounded with a sing-along chorus—this tone, along with the song’s cleaner production style, offers a new perspective on a timeless rock ‘n’ roll sound. The shoegaze-y guitars on the next track, aptly titled “Glide,” have just the right amount of reverb to make one feel as though they are doing just that, through the air, soaking in the last ray of the setting California sun.
Tracks such as “The Circle” and “Like Mary” see Wynn’s vocals come closer to the forefront of the song. The former is perhaps the most pummeling track on the album, with a driving beat and the wall of sound guitars in full effect, the song begins with an uncharacteristically badass guitar lick, with Wynn’s distorted vocals cutting through the edge. The latter easily has the most pleasant chorus on the entire album, with Wynn stating, “And there is [sic] just two reasons for everything/And people who spend their whole lives/Waiting like Mary.” A relic of the band’s past demos revived for this album, these lyrics indicate a message that is as relevant today as it was 35 years ago. The clean, layered instrumentation lends itself well to Wynn’s vocal presence.
“80 West” opens with a driving, punchy yet simple bass line, acting as a prelude to cacophonous guitars and lyrics of crime across the American highway, presumably inspired by pulp literature of the ‘50s. The pre-chorus offers an ascending mash of distorted sound, arguably the noisiest part of the album, a stark contrast from the softness of the verse. “Out Of My Head” introduces a hard rock edge to the record, as well as somewhat of a southwestern sound with the lead guitar lick and the added shakers. “Kendra’s Dream” welcomes a guest returning of original bassist Kendra Smith, who sings lead beautifully on the track, utilizing ambient nuances and a structure that feels largely like stream-of-consciousness.
The centerpiece of the album, however, and my favorite track on the album by far, is the title track. Upon hearing this song for the first time, I was brought back to the same question “How Did I Find Myself Here?” How does an album of incredibly pleasant and driving neo-psychedelic tunes transition into an 11 minute jam session? Wonderfully, as it turns out nearly seamlessly. The track branches out the musical palette of this record tenfold, reaching out into jazz, funk and rhythm and blues territories with the band interstitially reconvening for a glorious chorus. A testament to all the band is capable of, this track opens several new doors for the band to venture within, the 11 minute run time and the jam nature of the song indicative of the band’s fascination with these styles.
While this record comes out three and a half decades after the Dream Syndicate’s seminal debut, this album is a worthy follow-up to the sound of “The Days of Wine and Roses” that put the band on the map. With an alternative scene dominated by lazy bedroom and dream pop, it is very refreshing to hear the engaging Paisley Underground vibe rejuvenated in 2017. For a sound as simple and airy as theirs, the band continues to find ways to add sophistication and engagement to their music 35 years later. I can only hope that this is the beginning of a brand new chapter for such an essential group.
Gabe Sagherian is a student at West Chester University. He can be reached at GS889554@wcupa.edu.