Californian-band The Dream Syndicate’s latest album, These Times (3 May 2019; Anti-) in many ways has the feel of a straight-forward
road album, although the image they have chosen for the cover evokes a kind of psychedelic
river trip. Either way, the journey is without doubt worth making.
Following 2017’s well-received How Did I Find Myself Here?, These Times offers a further twist to the tale and another fine collection of songs, with founder, Fender Jaguar fan, and frontman Steve Wynn, joined by Mark Walton on bass, Dennis Duck on drums, Jason Victor on guitar, and Chris Cacavas on keyboards. The band produce a tight sound; presumably the product of having spent many years on the road together.
It is worth recalling that this is the second incarnation of The Dream Syndicate. The first phase, from 1982 to 1988, produced the classic album The Days Of Wine And Roses and several other notable releases, before Wynn went solo. Achieving cult status but little commercial success Wynn then decided to reform the band in 2012 with two other original members and the results, while not yet at the level of their earlier peak, have nonetheless been extremely promising.
In fact These Times' first two tracks are outstanding, and set the scene for the journey ahead. On the opening number The Way In, Wynn perhaps ruminates on the band’s history when he sings: "Tryin' to reconcile the past with the present, which one fits and which one doesn't… we shed our skin just to find a way in."
This is followed by Put Some Miles On, which took this reviewer a few listens to appreciate fully. Wynn almost talks his way through what sounds like a night drive across the American Midwest, with just some radio DJ chatter and a handful of pills to keep him company. One thinks of Lou Reed, and perhaps Pere Ubu’s David Thomas, as Wynn skilfully evokes the tired alienation of a man trying to escape himself. Consequently, Put Some Miles On is one of the standout tracks on the album.
The synth-backed Black Light is another great track that contains lines that would not be out of place on any psychedelic record: “Suckerpunch the misery truck” and “Switching the polarity of sight” Wynn sings to a driving beat. Next up is the more conventional Bullet Holes, which recalls The Beatles and REM.
Recovery Mode is another album highlight, which returns to the theme of movement and existential crisis: "Thrashing at the scenery with random sensibility, Give me distraction, get me in on the action," Wynn sings to some varied backing grooves.
The Whole World’s Watching has a wonderfully funky bass line and is the strongest among the closing tracks. “Somebody stop all that noise, it is making it hard to think, I’ve got it coming from every direction…” Wynn sings ominously.
The latest iteration of Dream Syndicate continues to offer some great guitar licks and high quality psychedelic rock that will be warmly welcomed by fans, and is sure to attract new adepts. The band are currently playing a number of sell-out shows all over the US, and in mid-June head to Italy, Scandinavia, Germany, France, Belgium and the UK; be sure to catch them live if you can.