The Dream Syndicate
How Did I Find Myself Here?
Release Date: September 8, 2017
Steve Wynn: Guitar, vocals
Dennis Duck: Drums
Mark Walton: bass
Jason Victor: Guitar
Kendra Smith: Vocals on “Kendra’s Dream”
Chris Cacavas: Keyboards
Produced by Dream Syndicate & Chris Cacavas
I recently popped into my Apple Music account to add “Halloween,” a favorite track by The Dream Syndicate, to a seasonally appropriate playlist, and what to my wondering eyes did appear but a new album by that very band. What a surprise. How Did I Find Myself Here? is the title, and also the question I asked myself because this is their first new release in nearly three decades.
30 years hasn’t knocked any of the edges off of Dream Syndicate’s brand of noir psychedelia. Opening track “Filter Me through You” walks the listener through an intertwining haze of angular guitar work. Fans of mid-period albums by The Church (Gold Afternoon Fix, Priest=Aura) will recognize this sound space. It’s lyrics, “Slice myself thin, so I can live beneath your skin,” remind me of The Soft Boys similar take on the nature of infatuation, “Kingdom of Love.” It has already found me hitting the single track loop icon.
I’ve always found it perplexing that Dream Syndicate was lumped in with the Paisley Underground movement. Geography aside, they share nearly no genre similarities. Their list of personal influences includes NEU!, Gun Club, a far cry from the neo granny glass crowd. In fact Dream Syndicate always had a decidedly more East Coast vibe. A single listen to “Tell Me When It’s Over,” the first song on their 1982 debut album (Days of Wine and Roses) demonstrates a sound more akin to Velvet Underground, Television, and Boston’s The Modern Lovers.
Steve Wynn’s vocals have always tread a line between Tom Verlaine’s bent warble, Jonathan Richman’s adenoidal exclamations and Lou Reed’s laconic Dylan-by-way-of-Long-Island delivery. They all share a meter breaking, prose punctuating, singing style. It’s as much recitation as it is vocalizing that lends itself well to their lyrical story telling. For instance, “80 West” is a dark road scenario introduced by a menacing bass throb. The inner dialog of its frayed nerved protagonist conjures up both the psychological torments of Edgar Allan Poe’s writings and David Lynch’s behind-the-driving-wheel visuals. This guy could be Talking Heads Psycho Killer 30 years on and The Dream Syndicate could have been right at home on stage at the Bang Bang Bar (the Roadhouse) in Twin Peaks: The Return. It’s a missed opportunity that’ll I’ll remedy by tossing this tune into my Lynch themed playlist.
Still Playing, Still Dreaming…
On HDIFMH? the band stays true to their original sound but offers up plenty of diversity within those stylistic parameters. “Out My Head” and “The Circle” are driven by a delicious dose of discordance, while “Glide” bathes us in a warm wash of ShoeGaze. (“I don’t have to come down. I just glide.” )
Interviewed about the origins of the project Wynn said, “I tried to imagine the characters and personalities and narratives on The Days of Wine and Roses and then wondered, “well, what ever DID happen to those people? What are they up to now? Did things work out for them?” I just took where I was at and where the band was at back then and turned the hands of the clock forward about 35 years. You know, just like real life.”
Though a rumination on characters from the past, the songs on HDIFMH? never slip into sentimentality. Wynn’s writing reveals Los Angeles roots most when focusing a Raymond Chandler style detective’s eye on the title character of “Like Mary.” It could easily serve as a Philip Marlowe voice-over.
She had pictures of her children, she remembered all of their names.
She knew it was much better for them, but it hurt just the same.”
To complete the circle and create a tail swallowing symbiosis with Days of Wine and Roses, original bassist Kendra Smith returns to co-author and sing lead vocals on the album’s final song, “Kendra’s Dream.” It’s mantra “I keep having the same dream, it’s a beautiful dream.” is sung over a wave of synth pads and pink noise to its fade out.
A perfect surprise find for me, How Did I Find Myself Here? is a spot on return to form from a band that deserves much more attention than they have been heretofore afforded. It might be the group’s best record next to their debut. It makes me wish another of my favorite 80’s groups had been kind to me and 2U and taken a 30 year recording hiatus to return with music as excellent as this.
The Dream Syndicate has lined up European Tour & North American Tour dates in support of the album. They start in Norway on October 14. A complete list of dates & venues can be found on their website, linked above.
Clocking in at a single LP’s worth of tunes makes How Did I Find Myself Here? a good candidate for purchase on vinyl. I’m looking forward to grabbing one from their merch table when they come through New York in December.