It all started with ‘Donuts’, apparently. Not the fatty treat but J Dilla’s very explicit and eponymous album. The Dream Syndicate’s lead singer Steve Wynn got obsessed with the DJ and cratedigger’s work and his approach to that mix-and-match of music of his very own. “I was messing around with step sequencers, drum machines, loops—anything to take me out of my usual way of writing and try to feel as though I was working on a compilation rather than more of the same”, as Wynn explains, referring to their latest LP ‘These Times’ (ANTI- Records, 2019).

Recorded, once again, at the Montrose Studios in Richmond (Virginia); it’s been co-produced by the acclaimed John Agnello.

Expect a psychedelic, “kaleidoscopic” journey through loads of layers and outer-space-atmospheres.

Let’s take the opener ‘The Way In’, which appears to us as that drone always watching us, 24/7. The propeller comes with the urgent ‘Put Some Miles On’, a rather disturbing yet quite radio friendly, energetic tune.

The first psychedelic turn arrives soon via ‘Black Light’, a very clever and powerful paradox of our time, indeed. The LA based band skillfully plays with your already twisted mind, with a complex army of loops and subtle sound effects.

A more melodic streak (‘Bullet Holes’) of the always gentle Steve Wynn tries to calm us down, with its reassuring pop lyrics (or mantra, if you prefer): “It’s alright, it’s alright…”. There are some harmonious backing vocals, too. Musically, it’s rather atmospheric, (almost) idyllic.

It’s worth pointing out that the music came first when composing the album, so the songwriter Wynn added the words “in the studio, after the band finished tracking, so that they would be dictated by the sound, rather than the other way around. This process contributed to the urgency of the album’s title”, according to the press release. “There is no avoiding the existential panic of a world that’s hurtling somewhere quickly, evolving, and shifting course by the hour. It seems like a lie to not address or reflect the things that we can’t stop thinking about —the whole world’s watching indeed”, the band reflects.

Consequently, there’s also space for more reflexive, weird ballads (‘Still Here Now’). Poignant keys and words, with guitars translating a restrained melancholy. Here’s the magic of this band, precisely. They always sound relevant. No need to innovate, really. Although they try to do it in every chance they come across.

Another track, another world. We’re now trapped in a great midnight escape. The psychic country fuelled ‘Speedway’ has that Dylanesque singing, along with a playful organ that makes the whole thing almost hilarious.

Don’t even bother to take a breath. Not even with ‘Recovery Mode’, such a disturbing, slow-paced-hip-hop-like tune. Again, the harmonious backing vocals alternates with sharpen guitars, along with synths and so on, in a dialogue between the human and the bot. “I’m losing grip on the mother lode / Sliding into recovery mode…”.

Powered by an intriguing instrumental intro, the funky-spatial ‘The Whole World’s Watching’ encapsulates the album’s leitmotiv. Let’s just take verse 1: “Somebody stop all that noise /

Making it hard to think / I got it coming from every direction / In waves of white and pink”.

The journey comes to an end with a rocking take-off request (‘Space Age’), that concludes with a great coda (‘Treading Water Underneath The Stars’), which inevitably drives us into our inner self… outer space, again. The algorithmic alchemy works, then: a very special brew made out of psychedelic rock guitars, mesmerising synth sounds and hypnotic words.

Overall, their second album since their 2012 reunion is an interesting experiment, that is, a proper soundtrack for our current dystopia. Nevertheless, it doesn’t exceed the previous album: the superb, mind-blowing “How Did I Get Myself Here?” (2017), with its glorious gems such as “The Circle” and, especially, its eponymous epiphany.

Anyway, as said, The Dream Syndicate’s new stuff is always inspiring, especially in these times…

Dream Syndicate – These Times: Out Now (Anti Records)

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Amaia Santana

Good karma brought me here to Manchester, my second home, where you can stay healthy (despite the weather) and young forever, as you can breathe live music in every corner of the city. I do believe in the healing power of music (rock is my life vest) and I'd be so glad to share my passion with you rockers of the world!