The Dream Syndicate | The Universe Inside | (ANTI-)
4 out of 5 stars
To coin a cliché, this is not your father’s Dream Syndicate.
The West Coast rockers, heavily influenced by the Velvet Underground, shift to full-on improvisational psychedelic jammers for this hour long excursion into the unknown. There are just five tracks and four hover around nine minutes with the opening “single” clocking in at a mind-bending 20 minutes long. These “songs,” really “pieces” is a better description, were culled from an 80-minute session, then divided into smaller sections. Horns and vocals were added later (saxist Marcus Tenney from the instrumental group Butcher Brown is a key player), but for the most part this is the sound that emerged from that studio time without overdubs.
Those familiar with the shorter, tighter format that The Dream Syndicate frontman/founder Steve Wynn has perfected over the decades with both solo work and that of his band may need come around to this unusual release, one that doesn’t follow in the footsteps of his previous output.
Anyone expecting Grateful Dead styled noodling will be pleasantly surprised to find this about 180 degrees away from that. Rather, as its psychedelic cover implies, it’s more indebted to early, pre-Dark Side psychedelic Pink Floyd mixed with Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis, Jefferson Airplane at their edgiest and even Jimi Hendrix whose “Third Stone From the Sun” riff appears briefly in “Apropos of Nothing.” That’s especially true on the final track, “The Slowest Rendition,” which incorporates poetic spoken word into the proceedings. When the drums and stuttering keyboards kick off “Dusting off the Rust,” just before the horns appear to push the tune into interstellar overdrive, you’ll appreciate how powerfully this cut and paste job connects on a purely musical level.
Unfocused? Shambling? Self-Indulgent? You bet… all that and more. But props to The Dream Syndicate not just for going out on this non-commercial artistic limb, but doing it with aplomb and showing their talent to cohere around a vibe, rather than a song. And, for the most part, keeping it interesting.
Clearly this one-off side trip is not for everyone, perhaps including The Dream Syndicate fans. But those willing to take a leap into more mysterious, experimental, unfamiliar, occasionally avant-garde waters will find enough spine-tingling moments to make this one of the more mind-expanding hours you’ll experience on any recent CD.
Set your controls for the heart of the sun and let fly.