The Dream Syndicate
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
You can call The Dream Syndicate founder and frontman Steve Wynn lots of things, but no one can call him lazy.
Following the outfit’s first incarnation (1982-’88) which created at least one timeless classic (82’s The Days Of Wine And Roses) and three more releases that, while not as stunning, were still rugged examples of the group’s Velvet Underground-meets-Television attack, Wynn shifted into solo career mode. Over a dozen albums resulted from that phase (1990-2014) which also saw him as a member of the recurrent collective The Baseball Project and leading his own Miracle 3. Why he decided to reform The Dream Syndicate in 2012 with two other original members is unclear since Wynn had spent over two decades establishing what every artist strives for — establishing his own name recognition.
Regardless, 2017’s well received reunion, intriguingly titled How Did I Find Myself Here?, wasn’t a comeback as much as a continuation with Wynn fronting the surprisingly tight, taut and energized quartet; a sort of indie rock version of Crazy Horse. Two years and lots of touring later, These Times picks up where the previous set left off.
Recorded with the same musicians, which notably includes guest keyboardist Chris Cacavas (although his presence is so prominent he acts like a full-time member), the approach takes a slightly less aggressive stance this time. It’s still plenty rocking though with leadoff track “The Way In” galloping out of the gate with the stark power of the original Alice Cooper band merged with the hard pop of Cheap Trick. There’s a bit of T.Rex/Mott the Hoople glam in “Space Age” (The Dream Syndicate famously opened for Mott’s recent reunion tour) and even some tough swaggering blues rocking in the driving “Speedway.”
Wynn’s unorthodox songwriting method is having the band record the songs as instrumentals, after which he crafts lyrics that are sung and overdubbed on those tracks. He says in the promotional notes that he wanted to be sure “… the words would be dictated by the sound rather than the other way around.” It’s an interesting tactic and one that works, likely because of Wynn’s talents as much as the process.
For the creeping, psychedelic “Black Light,” he sings the equally drug-oriented words “Revealed by the night/ Switching the polarity of sight/ Against the black light.” The band moves into R.E.M. mode for the atmospheric, reflective “Bullet Holes,” one of a handful of selections prominently enhanced by occasionally wordless male/female backing vocals that add another dimension to these already intricately layered tunes.
Despite the overdubbed nature, the songs cohere with remarkable ease making the final product appear as if it was recorded live in the studio. Wynn’s talk/sung vocals still reverberate like a combination of Lou Reed, Dylan and Michael Stipe, but he has a unique voice that connects perfectly with this gripping music.
No one could have imagined back in 1982 that The Dream Syndicate would even be around over 35 years later, let alone create an album as powerful, often electrifying and well, contemporary, as the appropriately named These Times.
It feels like they are just getting started.