Over the past year or so, I’ve managed to write quite a bit about the acclaimed Los Angeles-based psych rock act The Dream Syndicate. Tracing its origins back to the 80s, the band which currently features founding members Steve Wynn (guitars, vocals), a critically applauded singer/songwriter and solo artist and Dennis Duck (drums), along with the band’s most recent members Mark Walton (bass) and Jason Victor (guitar), the members of the acclaimed psych rock act will be releasing their latest effort, The Universe Inside through Anti- Records on April 10, 2020.
Officially, their third reunion-era effort and their seventh overall, the forthcoming album will reportedly be one oft he most mind-bending and trippiest efforts they’ve released to date — and for the first time in their storied and lengthy history. every song on the album is a group songwriting effort. Musically, the material draws from each individual member’s eclectic interests and passions: Dennis Duck’s love and knowledge of European avant garde music, Jason Victor’s love of 70s prog rock, Mark Walton’s experience in Southern-friend music collectives, Chris Cacavas’ interest in sound manipulation and Wynn’s love of 70s jazz fusion. Recorded in one session, the band recorded 80 continuous minutes of soundscapes. “All we added was air,” Wynn explains in press notes. So, aside from vocals, horns and a touch of percussion here and there, every instrument is recorded live as it happened.
Last month, I wrote about the album’s sprawling and epic first single “The Regulator.” Now, as you may recall, the single clocked in at a little under 21 minutes and was sort of seamless synthesis of Bitches Brew and Jack Johnson-era Miles Davis, motorik groove-driven prog rock and 60s psych rock — thanks to droning electric sitar played by The Long Ryders‘ Stephen McCarthy, a sinuous bass line, soulful sax flourishes by Butcher Brown‘s Marcus Tenney. Adding to a lysergic vibes, Wynn’s vocals were fed through vocoder and ghostly effects and then buried within the trippy and funky mix.
“’The Regulator’ is a microcosm of the entire record,” Wynn explains in press notes. “It was just a formless, trippy mass as we all started playing together. There was an early 70’s drum machine—a Maestro Rhythm King, the same model used on There’s A Riot Goin’ On—with Dennis locking in and setting the pace. Stephen grabbed an electric sitar because it was the first thing he saw. Jason and I were kicking pedals on like lab monkeys in a laboratory and Mark was a lightning rod, uniting all of those elements into one tough groove. I collected a list of random, unconnected lyric ideas that I kept on my phone. I tried them all out in random order in my home studio just to see how they would feel and that one-take test run is the vocal you hear! There’s just so much lightning-in-a-jar, first take excitement on this record.”
The Universe Inside‘s second and latest single is the brooding and atmospheric “The Longing.” Centered around shimmering and reverb-drenched guitars, a propulsive bass line, jazz-like drumming and Steve Wynn’s imitable vocals, “The Longing” is an eerily prescient meditation on morality and the passage of time that manages to capture and evoke things I’ve personally felt over the past year or two — and that many of us have felt recently: the creeping realization of one’s mortality; the sense that there will be some degree of unfinished business — both professionally and personally; the mournful and uneasy feeling of being adrift, alone and frightened in an uncertain world.
“A friend of mine once said, ‘You ought to write a song about longing,’” the band’s Steve Wynn says of the song and its title. “This was a few years back but it stuck with me and when I was listening to minutes 20 through 28 of the improvisation that became The Universe Inside I knew that the suggestion had finally found its proper home. This section of music — that followed in real time the part that became “The Regulator” — felt so mournful and lost and adrift and confused, much like longing itself. You think you know where it’s at? The longing is stronger than that.”
Directed by the band’s longtime visual collaborator David Daglish, the recently released video for “The Longing” is a cryptic yet gorgeous meditation on yearning, memories and the inevitable (and unstoppable) passage of time. “Our resident visual interpreter David Dalglish picked up on that feeling for a video that connected hauntingly to that feeling of distance and memory. And now? Suddenly it all feels very much of the moment. A chasm, sleepless for day and days, rootless, unsettled and alone. All that’s left is the longing,” the band’s Steven Wynn explains in press notes.