By Andrew Tanner.
How Did I Find Myself Here?/The Dream Syndicate
Sometimes an album comes along that perfectly channels the ridiculously blissful pleasure of turning up your amp, banging out some guitar chords and wallowing in the squeals of feedback, distortion and speaker rattle. This is that album.
That it comes from a band that had its heyday in the mid-to-late 80’s and only recommenced touring in the last few years makes it even more pleasurable, given we’ve had more than enough tepid reunion albums in the past few years.
A quick recap for those that came in late. Led by singer/guitarist Steve Wynn, The Dream Syndicate were one of the pioneering acts of LA’s so-called ‘Paisley Underground’ in the late 80’s. More a handful of like-minded bands than a genuine movement, Dream Syndicate shared the mantle along with acts like The Bangles, Rain Parade, The Three O’Clock and Green On Red. Their common cause was a love of 60’s psych, pop and garage acts, together with the DIY attitude of iconoclasts like The Velvet Underground and assorted punk rockers.
Their 1982 debut The Days Of Wine And Roses established them as the most vital exponents of this nascent neo-psychedelic wave, and flirtations with major labels led to a further three albums, none of which managed to recapture the energy and excitement of their first outing. The band broke up in 1989, followed by several Wynn solo albums. It was only in late 2012 that Wynn reconstituted the band and commenced live touring. How Did I Find Myself Here? is their fifth studio album, and first new recording in 29 years. ‘Long time coming’ doesn’t begin to describe it.
Mind you, all that is just background. The new album is a sonic blast of pure rock’n’roll goodness, needing no worthy back story to boost its merits. Never a vocalist in the pure sense, and better described as a storyteller in the Tom Verlaine/Steve Kilbey vein, Wynn, co-guitarist Jason Victor, bassist Mark Walton and drummer Dennis Duck concoct a blizzard of alternately snarling and soaring sounds, best heard on standout track ‘Glide’, with a lyric that lauds the pleasures of letting go of old rules and strictures. It brings a smile to hear a late 50’s road warrior sing ‘older than I was when I made the rules that held me down, I don’t think I’ll be traveling down that road again… I just glide’.
Several tracks on the album dive-bomb rather than glide. ‘Out Of My Head’ is a relentless 4 minute guitar assault driven by Walton’s loping bass, and cut through with squalls of nasty, overdriven Jazzmaster riffing. ’80 West’ is an LA noir film plot set to a garage punk soundtrack, while ‘The Circle’ kicks off with what sounds like a post punk inversion of that famous ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ riff before catapulting into a punky workout that wouldn’t be out of place on a Social Distortion record.
Gentler moments come with ‘Like Mary’, a slice of country psych apparently resurrected from a 35 year-old demo, and the lysergic, droning album closer ‘Kendra’s Dream’ sung in husky low register by original bassist Kendra Smith, marking it as her first recording with the band in 35 years.
How Did I Find Myself Here? is one for the true believers – a righteously rocking gift from a band who haven’t forgotten why they picked up a guitar in the first place.