What does it sound like?:
The Paisley Underground was a Californian phenomenon that existed in the early eighties, harking back to the sunny pop of the sixties with jangly guitar and smatterings of psychedelica. It consisted of bands like The Bangles, The Rain Parade, The Three O’Clock and Green On Red. Echo And The Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes and The Mighty Wah! were the UK equivalent. Prince was inspired enough to name his label Paisley Park, write a hit for The Bangles and base All Around The World In A Day on its sound.
The Dream Syndicate stood out. They had a darker edge, being more influenced by The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground of White Light, White Heat. Their debut, Days Of Wine And Roses is a classic, full of billows of guitar enveloped around an energetic rhythm section and terse, defiant lyrics, delivered in a Reed-like laconic drawl. They sounded unstoppable and volatile. That sound evolved over four studio albums, adjusting for personnel changes. They became less abrasive and more dreamy but the guitars continued to churn and Steve Wynn’s vocals remained a recognisable constant. In 1988, the band broke up.
Nearly thirty years later, they’ve made a new album. Steve Wynn still writes the songs, sings and plays rhythm guitar. Dennis Duck sits on his familiar drum stool with Mark Walton on bass, as he has been since 1986. Original bassist, Kendra Smith, contributes lyrics and vocals for the final track. Jason Victor is the newest boy on lead but has been duelling guitars with Wynn in his solo career since 2003. Chris Cavacas of Green On Road chips in on organ.
The eight tracks are almost a potted history of the band, conjuring up memories of each of their albums, but also adding a fresh, new and different chapter. The guitars are magnificent, rocking, rolling, crying, singing, intertwined with each other. They don’t dazzle with nimble fingered technique, they develop an irresistible momentum carrying the listener through exhilarating highs and lows.
How Did I Find Myself Here? opens at a medium pace but with the volume button at eleven, accelerates over three more tracks, takes a bit of a breather, girds its loins for the big epic and ends on a high. There are suggestions of drugs, bizarre thoughts, nostalgia, wistfulness and sheer fun, with more than a hint of malevolence. For Filter Through You, Wynn expresses a desire to burrow under an ex’s skin, so she can’t forget him. Glide is both aggressive and euphoric, indulging itself in a flight of fancy, matched by the driven guitars. Out Of My Head is faster and even more bonkers, out-staring the shoe-gazers and outdoing them for noise. 80 West has a nasty streak as wide as a freeway in which the guitars roam wild. Like Mary, an old song from the eighties, is as close to a ballad Dream Syndicate get, inflamed as it is by angry flashes of slide guitar, distraught at Mary’s plight. The Circle is as tight and as powerful as a controlled explosion.
The title track is jazzy, laid back and funky. The song is a raison d’être for the reunion. The guitars duck and weave, supporting and egging each other on, distorted and dignified. At over eleven and a half minutes long, it feels much too short. The finale is a piece of music that builds and builds relentlessly. Who better to sing a song about a dream than a near-ghost? Kendra Smith has lived in remote woods for twenty years. Her sonorous tones, much deeper than Wynn’s, describe a vision of hope and beauty. Kendra’s Dream is the perfect ending to an album that flies by, a proper album that should be listened to right through in one sitting.
The Paisley Underground came into existence to reject the synthesiser and celebrate the electric guitar. In 2017, The Dream Syndicate have just released a great guitar album, not just a throwback, but an album that looks forward to a positive, guitar-centric future. Afterworders should be delighted.
What does it all *mean*?
Most spectacular resurrection from the dead now has three contenders for 2017: Dream Syndicate, Slowdive & Peter Perrett.
Goes well with…
Dream Syndicate aren’t the only band from the Paisley Underground to reunite. In December 2013, they shared a bill at The Fillmore with The Bangles, Rain Parade and The Three O’Clock. Here’s hoping for a new Bangles album of Prince covers.
Might suit people who like…
Electric guitar. Lots of electric guitar.