Reviews

How The Dream Syndicate Found Itself Here, And Now

The Dream Syndicate – How Did I Find Myself Here (Anti-, 2017)

By Katarina Samurovic

 

The Dream Syndicate is of the most famous bands of Californian Paisley Underground – a groundbreaking scene that developed in the 80s and gave new life to 60s psychedelia. The Paisley Underground bands managed to merge psychedelic and classic rock with garage rock’n’roll, and also to add a bit of pop to the mix. Imagine The Velvet Underground sound married to Creedence Clearwater Revival, having affair with punk rock.

Paisley Underground scene gave birth to bands such as Rain Parade, Green On Red, Opal, Mazzy Star and, of course, The Dream Syndicate. It is one of the most powerful forces that shaped American underground rock music scene, especially on the West Coast.

As a typical Paisley band, The Dream Syndicate were known for the dreamy psychedelic rides with a pop structure, which would often evolve in prolonged improvised jam sessions. After four studio albums and gaining a following, critical acclaim and even being briefly signed to a major label, in 1989 The Dream Syndicate ended. One two founders, Kendra Smith, left the band even earlier and moved on to form Opal (which would later become Mazzy Star). The other founder – Steve Wynn (guitar/vocal) made a very productive solo career. He had sought to “undefine himself”, and succeeded in creating his original sound – typical, but still unique 90s American indie rock. He created some amazing records, especially with his band The Miracle 3, and toured all over the world.

But it seems that the spirit of The Dream Syndicate has never left them. The band came back together in an almost-original line-up in 2012 to play some European shows. Five years later they released their comeback album, “How Did I Find Myself Here“.

Reunions of legendary bands always come with a certain sense of unease. The expectations are high, so are the concerns that those expectations won’t be met. In worst cases, unhappy reunions sound like musicians doing mediocre covers of their old material.

But thankfully, things are much different with The Dream Syndicate. Steve Wynn and the rest of his old-new crew were really busy for the past 30 years. They kept their creative juices flowing.

That’s why “How Did I Find Myself Here” won’t let you take one breath of suspicion. From the very beginning, it pulls your senses and emotions in through a powerful opener, “Filter Me Through You“. It is stacked with layers slow-releasing passion, which is materialized in hypnotizing guitars and keys, dragging you into a whirlpool of a dazzling, almost paralyzing love song. The video clearly insinuates it was dedicated to Steve Wynn’s wife and long-term collaborator in The Miracle 3 and The Baseball Project, Linda Pitmon.

The one and only downside to an opener like this it that it may take a while to „get over it“ and move onto the rest of the album. But moving on was surely worth it. “Glide” greets us with a lighter, vivid atmosphere, and the lyrics “And I just glide / I may never get higher / I don’t have to come down / I don’t have to come down“, which can be taken as a sort of a manifesto. “Glide” is a song that reflects the musician’s maturity at it’s best. When an artist reaches a state of flow, of perfect unison with his art, his crew and the self, a creative euphoria takes over and guides him forward. That’s the glide, and that’s why there is really no need to “come down”, or “get higher”. The playful instrumental outro nicely complements its basic idea.

We continue to ride through the albums’ so typically Californian soundscapes and emotional rollercoasters. The twisted bass lines, and distortion-infused, the mind-boggling ending of “Out Of My Head” and the complimentary “80 West” pull us from the steadiness of “Glide” into deeper, darker, and dangerous places. Then we climb back into a lighter place through the minimalist indie vibe of “Like Mary“, a typical Steve Wynn creation (and the plot sounds almost like a sequel to 1997’s “Sweetness And Light”). “The Circle” blasts us with a sense of the modern cul-de-sac, backed up by aching melancholic guitars, again so typically Californian; going beyond the Paisley Underground period of the 80s, if you love the Californian punk of the 90s, this song might strike a particular chord with you.

Then the sense of calm returns again with the lengthy title song, “How Did I Find Myself Here“. It takes us back to Paisley days of uncompromisingly long improvisations created by many psychedelia-influenced bands. Beginning with such funky-psyched out jam, you may think the song is an instrumental. But throughout the half of it, it get’s it’s structure and spine, with Wynn asking a key question in a decisive and slightly weary tone: “…How did I find myself here?”. After that, the song appropriately dismantles itself again into an instrumental ride.

The title of the last song – “Kendra’s Dream” – is not misleading. Kendra Smith of Opal fame, and one of the founders of The Dream Syndicate, appears once again to sing backing vocals on the song. It is hypnotic and trippy, a bit like Kendra herself. This coming together and the distinctly dreamy-psychedelic atmosphere seem to honor The Dream Syndicate’s beginnings.

Essentially, describing the songs like this doesn’t really do them justice. Mentioning elements of the past is inevitable, and this might make “How Did I Find Myself Here” sound like a reminiscent, nostalgic, revival album. But it is certainly not so. While it does take root in original Paisley traditions, “How Did I Find Myself Here” is still a very contemporary, relevant and fresh piece. It doesn’t simply “bring to life” the powerful forces of Californian underground rock and roll; instead, it reminds us that they have never subdued.

And pondering upon the message of “Glide”, The Dream Syndicate comeback gives us a precious opportunity – to witness and partake in the beautiful rounding off of a journey of the talented and influential artists, who obviously reached the peak of their career. And they literally “don’t have to get higher” than this. I’m not sure that a “higher” place really exists.

Tracklist:

01 “Filter Me Through You”

02 “Glide”

03 “Out Of My Head”

04 “80 West”

05 “Like Mary”

06 “The Circle”

07 “How Did I Find Myself Here”

08 “Kendra’s Dream”

 

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