Tag: 1990s

Throwback: Happy 78th Birthday Curtis Mayfield!

JOVM pays tribute to Curitis Mayfield on what would have been his 78th birthday.

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Tennin · The What – The Notorious B.IG, Method Man [Tennin Remix]

With the release of a handful of singles that received attention from InRocksLab, Radio Nova, Earmilk and Afropunk, the rising Paris-based alternative pop artist Tennin quickly exploded into the international pop scene in 2015. The Paris-based artist ended a momentum building year by performing at La Cigale, as part of a showcase featuring rising female Parisian artists.

The following year, Tennin built upon her growing profile through tours across France, Germany and the UK. Adding to a relatively young career of big career highlights, the French pop artist’s single “Heal You,” catches the attention of acclaimed, trip hop pioneer Tricky, who signed her to !K7 Records. She then contributes a track to the Test of Time compilation, which featured tracks from Saul Williams, IDLES and others.

Additionally, last year saw her becoming a finalist of the Afropunk springboard but she also opened for the likes of Dope Saint Jude and Muthoni Drummer Queen at Les Cuizines — and she played the final show at Les Etoiles. She ended the year with a live interview and session for Radio Campus Brussels.

Earlier this year, the rising French pop artist signed to renowned Parisian electronic label Kitsune Music, who released her first single of this year “Guys in Tears.” Interestingly, Tennin posted a cover/remix of The Notorious B.I.G.‘s “The What,” feat. Method Man on Instagram that received such positive reactions that she decided to record and release a full-version. While retaining the original’s memorable beat, the addition of Tennin’s vocals adds sultry, Aaliyah-like air to the proceedings. Naturally, while being a shoutout to Golden Era, East Coast hip-hop, the song is also a vital reminder that hip-hop is the lingua franca of kids across the globe.

 

New Audio: JOVM Mainstay Mark Lanegan Releases a Shimmering and Brooding New Single

Over the past handful of years, I’ve managed to spill a fair share of virtual ink covering acclaimed, JOVM mainstay Mark Lanegan over the years on this site. And as you may recall, the Ellensburg, WA-born, Los Angeles, CA-based singer/songwriter and guitarist’s 11th full-length solo album Somebody’s Knocking continued an incredible run of critically applauded releases but the album’s material found the JOVM mainstay turning to some of his most formative musical influences and profound loves — electronic music.  “I’ve always been into electronic music since I was a kid,” Lanegan said in press notes at the time. “I think the reason those elements have become more obvious in my music is that my tastes have changed as I’ve grown older. The bulk of what I listen to now is electronic. Alain Johannes and I had actually written “Penthouse High” for Gargoyle but then it didn’t really fit on that record. I have been a huge fan of New Order and Depeche Mode forever and have wanted to do a song along those lines for a long time – a blatantly catchy, old-school dance-type song.”

2020 will be a busy year for Lanegan: his memoir Sing Backwards and Weep will be published by Da Capo Press on April 28, 2020 — and his 12th solo album Straight Songs Of Sorrow will be released through Heavenly Recordings on May 8, 2020. Featuring guest appearances from his longtime  Greg Dulli, Warren Ellis, the legendary John Paul Jones, Ed Harcourt and countless others, Straight Songs Of Sorrow is inspired by his own life story, as documented in his memoir.

Reportedly, Sing Backwards and Weep is a brutal, nerve-shredding read, centered around Lanegan’s recounting his journey from troubled youth in Eastern Washington, through his days as a drug-fueled member of Seattle’s grunge rock scene to today with Lanegan finding peace and salvation within himself with unsparing and unadulterated candor. While the book documents his lifelong struggle to find peace within himself, his forthcoming 12th album emphasizes the extent to which he realized that music is his life.

“Writing the book, I didn’t get catharsis,” Lanegan says. “All I got was a Pandora’s box full of pain and misery. I went way in, and remembered shit I’d put away 20 years ago. But I started writing these songs the minute I was done, and I realized there was a depth of emotion because they were all linked to memories from this book. It was a relief to suddenly go back to music. Then I realized that was the gift of the book: these songs. I’m really proud of this record.”  Interestingly, in press notes, Lanegan affirms that each of Straight Songs Of Sorrow‘s 15 songs references a specific episode or person in the book — albeit, some more explicitly than others.

Whereas the previous two Mark Lanegan Band albums, 2017’s Gargoyle and the aforementioned Somebody’s Knocking found Lanegan pairing his lyrics to music written by collaborators, most of Straight Songs Of Sorrow was written by Lanegan — with the exception being the collaborations with Mark Morton. Two other songs have shared credits — and those two songs were cowritten by Lanegan’s wife Shelley Brien. But much like the book that inspired it, the album ends  with its hero overcoming adversity and struggle and turning, battered and beat up, but cleansed, towards a bright new day

So far, I’ve written about the album’s first two singles — the slow-burning, part bluesy lament, part tale of survival and redemption “Skeleton Key.” and the uptempo yet vulnerable “Bleed All Over.” The album’s third and latest single “Stockholm City Blues” is a brooding and spectral song, centered around twangy and looped guitar, a shimmering string arrangement and an achingly plaintive vocal from Lanegan. Evoking the gnawing loneliness of being a foreigner in a foreign land that you can barely understand, and of a man wandering around narrow European streets with his own thoughts and regrets, the song may arguably be one of the most sorrowful of released to date. 

Interview: A Q&A with The Sighs

Holyoke, MA-based rock band The Sighs can trace their origins back to 1982 when its founding members Robert LaRoche (vocals, guitar) and Tommy Pluta (bass, vocals) met and bonded over their mutual of love of acts like The Beach BoysCrosby, Stills and Nash and other that employed the use of multi-part harmonies. Interestingly enough, it helped that while the Holyoke-based band’s founding members were jamming together, they discovered that their own voices blended together beautifully.

Tom Borawaski (drums) and Matt Cullen (vocals, guitar) were recruited to flesh out the band’s sound and to complete the band’s initial lineup. Shortly after the band’s lineup was finalized, they quickly began makin a name for themselves as a must-see live act across the region. As Tommy Pluta explained in press notes, “One luxury of living in Western Mass is that we played all the colleges and clubs for years and years. By the time things started happening for us, we were primed for it — we sounded really tight and everything was just spot on.”

As luck would have it, the members of The Sighs crossed paths with John DeNicola, an Oscar Award-winning songwriter and producer, who co-wrote “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” and his production partner Tommy Allen at the China Club in 1990. And after meeting DeNicola and Allen, the Holyoke-based band signed with  Charisma/Virgin Records, who released their full-length debut, What Goes On to critical acclaim. Adding to a rapidly growing profile, the band toured with nationally touring acts like Gin BlossomsDada and others.

The band eventually split up with members of the band pursuing individual creative projects and/or focusing on family life. Interestingly, the material on the band’s third full-length album, 2017’s Wait On Another Day can trace its origins to an unearthed batch of demos that the band’s Matt Cullen stumbled upon. Originally recorded in the early 1990s, and later placed on hard drives, the demos had been forgotten about for the better part of 20 years – until Cullen played them. He was so impressed by what he heard, that he shared the demos with his bandmates and their longtime producer John DeNicola.

Feeling that the band had unfinished business – and that they should continue the collective story they started 20+ years previously, the band decided to reconvene at DiNicola’s Upstate New York-based studio to revise a handful of songs. But as the band’s Tom Borawski explained at the time “. . . it all came together so well, and we were having such a great time, we ended up making a whole album. It really just took on a life of its own.”

“All the years of playing together left a permanent mark on us. It wasn’t too difficult to tap into our musical and personal bond again,” LaRoche said of the five-day recording session that produced Wait On Another Day. Borowski added “Everything had more of a spark to it than when we made What Goes On, where we put all the songs under a microscope and tried to get it all completely perfect.” As a result, the material possesses a urgency and vitality to it that many contemporary bands wish they could capture on record. Interestingly, while much of the album’s material focuses on many of the things that they wrote about in their youth – girls, getting kicked around, hopes and dreams and falling in love but tinged with the wistful and aching nostalgia of middle-aged men, who have been forced to accept the passage of time, their impending mortality – and the old adage that the more things change, the more they remain the same: no matter how old you are, heartache is heartache and life is ultimately about figuring out how to learn from it and move forward.

Building upon the attention they received from Wait On Another Day, the members reconvened to write and record its highly-anticipated follow-up, the five song Tearing My Heart Again, which OMAD Records released today. The EP’s material finds the band continuing where its predecessor left off but while revealing a band that has grown in the past three years. While they pull in some new ideas to the mix, they do so without straying too far afield from what has been successful – carefully crafted, hook-driven rock paired with earnest songwriting.

I recently exchanged emails with the members of The Sighs for this edition of the JOVM Q&A. World events have found a way to impact all of us – and as a result, they’ve managed to bleed into every aspect of our professional and person lives in ways that will reverberate for quite some time to come. With COVID-19 forcing cities and localities across the world to indefinitely shut down bars, restaurants, clubs, music venues and countless other non-essential businesses, the impact on musicians and the music industry will be far-reaching and devastating. Over the next few months, I’ll be discussing how COVID-19 has impacted the careers and lives of artists of all stripes – and the members of the Holyoke-based band openly and honestly discuss where they stand right now and what may be next. Of course, we chat about the recently released EP at length, the band’s tour with The Gin Blossoms and more. Check it out below.

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Support these artists by buying their work. You can order The Sighs EP here:

https://www.omadrecords.com/store/the-sighs-tearing-my-heart-again-ep

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WRH:  Most of the country has been enacting social distancing guidelines and stay at home orders as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. How are y’all holding up in such a difficult and uncertain time? What are you doing to preoccupy yourself? Anything you’re binge watching? 

Robert LaRoche: Been pretty much staying home. Except to go for a daily run and food shopping.

Working on new songs. Binge watching Peaky Blinders on Netflix.

Tommy Borowski: Been binge watching bad 70’s movies…

WRH: Since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, festivals have been postponed or canceled outright, artists of all stripes have postponed or rescheduled tour dates, album releases have been rescheduled. I’ve asked this question to a handful of artists already – and I suspect that for some period of time I’ll be asking a lot of bands this: How has COVID-19 impacted you and your career? 

Matt Cullen: Well, we’re all at a standstill. We had a Sighs gig booked in mid-March in our home base of western Massachusetts. Robert flew in from Austin and I flew from Des Moines. After couple of spirited rehearsals, the gig was cancelled. I’m now home and have seen all of my gigs here cancelled for the foreseeable future. I don’t make my living entirely from music but playing roughly 100 gigs a year certainly helps the family kitty. Those lost wages will hurt and the loss of that enjoyment, performing, making music, that hurts equally.

WRH: Who’s the funniest guy in the band? 

RLR: It depends on the given day I suppose! We all have our moments. [But] I’m going to go with Tommy Pluta on this one 💙

MC: If you asked Tommy Pluta……..😎

WRH: Who are your influences?

Tommy Pluta: Cheap Trick, Tom Petty, Shoes, Foo Fighters.

RLR: I was heavily influenced by The Everly Brothers. And tried to incorporate their two-part harmony style into The Sighs music. Also love early American Rock ‘n’ Roll pioneers like Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry. And, of course The Beatles and Beach Boys were a big influence.

MC: Too many to name. The typical ones. The British Invasion bands, particularly The Beatles. A lot of 70’s rock and pop rock: Aerosmith, Thin Lizzy, Cheap Trick, Raspberries, Queen, The Cars. I could go on…….

WRH: Who are you listening to right now?

TP: Fountains of Wayne.

RLR: Jenifer Jackson, a local singer/songwriter here in Austin

MC: My current go-to is a live record by Bo Ramsey and the Backsliders. Bo is a spooky, great player, known for his work with Lucinda Williams and Greg Brown. He’s an Iowa guy and I’ve opened for him here and have gotten to know him a little. I’m crossing my fingers to do some playing with him. Also, and sadly, I’ve been revisiting Fountains of Wayne since the news of Adam’s death.

WRH: How would you describe your sound to those unfamiliar with The Sighs? 

TP: Classic Power Pop / Rock sound. Two guitars, bass, drums, melodic with three part harmony.  The Smithereens, Gin Blossoms

WRH: The band can trace its origins back to when its founding members – Robert LaRoche and Tommy Pluta – met back in 1982. Tom Borawski and Matt Cullen were the recruited and the band then spent next eight years gigging around Western Massachusetts. In 1990, the members of the band crossed paths with John DeNicola, who became your producer and you signed with Charisma/Virgin Records. So, the band went from playing the college circuit to touring with the Gin Blossoms, who were selling millions of records and being played on the radio every single day. How was that experience like? 

TP: We always tried to make the most of every opportunity.

We had been on the road for months prior to touring with the Gin Blossoms so we were ready to take the next step.  Getting the chance to perform our music to their fans night after night was a terrific experience.  They were especially nice to us, and we found a lot of commonality with our music and influences. It would be great to do some dates with them again. . .

WRH: The band eventually split up after the release of their sophomore album with each of the individual band members focusing on other creative projects, on raising families and working day jobs. 20 years pass and as the story goes, Matt Cullen stumbles upon some demos that the band recorded in the early 90s. What was the experience of hearing the demos for the first time in so long like? 

MC: It was really cool to find the old recordings. I had transferred a boxful of 1/4 tapes to a hard drive, without listening to them. That was in 2010. It was 6 years later that I opened the folder labeled Sighs. We had been cranking out demos from 90-93 (?), both for the Charisma album and also for what we hoped would be a follow up with them. None of us recalled recording a few of them. You’d finish a song and move on. I got goosebumps when I realized what I had stumbled upon. I did rough mixes and sent unnamed mp3s to the guys. They were really surprised, and we were all excited by how well the home recordings had held up.

WRH: How was it like to revisit material that you wrote some 20 years prior? How were the first writing sessions for Wait on Another Day? Did your songwriting process change between your sophomore album and 2017’s Wait on Another Day?

RLR: The WOAD songs were written before, during, and after the recording of our debut CD What Goes On, during the period between 1987 and 1993. We had a lot of songs to choose from at that time. And only a dozen were chosen for What Goes On. The tracks on WOAD were songs already included in our live performances. We were a pretty well-oiled machine by then. Revisiting and re-recording this material over 20 years after their inception was great fun! And genuinely satisfying.

WRH: The five song EP, Tearing My Heart Again was recently released. In some way the EP finds the band continuing where they left off, as though the lengthy hiatus had never happened. While the material is centered through some passionate performances as collective whole, the EP – to my ears – reveals quite a bit of growth. It seems to capture old, wizened pros, who have gotten back on the proverbial horse but with some new ideas. How does Tearing My Heart Again differ from your previously released work? Was that intentional? What inspired it? 

TP: We drew inspiration from the fun we had recording WOAD in the Fall 2016. Recording new Sighs music (20+ years later) was something we discussed a couple times, and the possibility came around again in August of 2019.  We had a couple songs and several ideas, we just had to find the time to all be in one place to record which ended up being 3 days starting New Years’ Day 2020. The process of writing was the same in some ways and very different in other ways. We always shared ideas to see which ones we though would fit, and then developed them, but sharing ideas is so much easier with technology. A lot of text and email.

 WRH:  What does the EP touch upon thematically?

RLR: The five songs on “Tearing My Heart Again” deal with personal relationships.
In the title track, the protagonist is involved in an unhealthy love affair. Where heartbreak is an ongoing concern, and dark attraction becomes a fatal flaw.

WRH: “Over the Line” is one of my favorite songs on the EP. It’s probably the most Smithereens-like on the five songs. Can you tell us a little bit about what it’s about?

RLR: “Over the Line” is about the near hopelessness and futility of caring for someone in active addiction. With the resignation that although you cannot judge the person you care for, and will continue to be there for them, the possibility of the active addict to cross over the line and become another fatality statistic, is forever present.

WRH: Oddly enough, there are sections of EP closing track “Rise” that somehow reminds me a bit of Pink Floyd’s “Brain Damage.” Maybe I’m hearing thing but, did that influence the track at all about 

RLR You’re spot on with the Pink Floyd reference on the EP’s closing track “Rise.” Tommy Pluta initially sent me the guitar riff and chord changes. Which were already quite psychedelic sounding. We put a two-part harmony over the music in the vein of Waters and Gilmour. Our producer John DeNicola used an old school tape echo on the vocals. This gave the track the retro feel we were striving for.

WRH: What advice would you give to bands/artists trying to make a name for themselves thematically

 MC: I don’t know that my track record qualifies me to give advice but I will say that you must absolutely love what you do. There are many obstacles and it’s a long road. In today’s music world, I’d say you need to have a strong presence online. Sales are a different animal than what I grew up with. Touring is always helpful in spreading the word but can be financially daunting. CD mailers to college or community radio in your area are helpful. Try to grow it steadily. Again, you better love it!  :/)

WRH: What’s next for the band

MC:  It’s hard to say what is next for us. I’m not sure anyone of us would have guessed that we would have released a full-length record and an EP in the last three years. We never say never and leave ourselves open to all possibilities.  We have a strong personal relationship which leaves the musical door open at all times.

  

New Video: The Dream Syndicate’s Trippy and Meditative Visual for “Apropos of Nothing”

Over the better part of the past 12-15 months or so, I’ve managed to spill quite a bit of virtual ink writing about the acclaimed Los Angeles-based psych rock act and JOVM mainstays The Dream Syndicate. Tracing its origins back to the early 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 just released their third post-reunion and seventh full-length album The Universe Inside through Anti- Records. 

Arguably one of the most forward-thinking, mind-bending efforts they’ve yet to release, the album marks the first time in their storied history in which every song on the album was conceived and written as a collective group. And the result is an album that sounds unlike anything they’ve done together or individually. 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. Interestingly, the album’s material comes from one completely improvised session in which the band created 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.

So far I’ve written about the album’s first two single. The album’s the sprawling, Bitches Brew and Jack Johnson-era Miles Davis meets prog rock and psych rock-like first single, “The Regulator,” which features The Long Ryders‘ Stephen McCarthy on sitar and Butcher Brown‘s Marcus Tenney on sax. Adding to the lysergic and hazy vibe, Wynn’s vocals were fed through vocoder and ghostly effects — and then buried within the mix. The album’s second single was the brooding and atmospheric “The Longing,” an eerily prescient meditation on mortality and the passage of time that evokes the creeping realization of one’s own morality; the awareness of unfinished business and the gnawing lack of closure or even meaning; and the uneasy feeling of being adrift and alone in a frightening and uncertain world. 

The album’s third and latest single “Apropos of Nothing” continues the album’s lysergic vibes: The song opens with an expansive and trance-inducing introductory section centered around shimmering and reverb-drenched guitars and a motorik-groove and surrealistic and impressionistic lyrics that slowly builds up into the sort of ecstatic catharsis reminiscent of the Sufi whirling dervishes.

“The only verbal cue that came during the entire 80 minutes of improvisation that led to The Universe Inside happened as we started the section that became ‘Apropos of Nothing,’” Wynn explains. “We had been messing around in the key of E on the bits that led to ‘The Regulator’ and ‘The Longing’ and then Stephen McCarthy said ‘Let’s try something in G.’ He started playing the figure that starts the section and off we went. We were so locked in with each other and our antennae were poised for any clues that anyone in the band had to offer.

When I went back to Richmond to finish the record I knew I wanted to sing something on this section.  I went into the studio and quickly wrote the words—it took about 5 minutes—just so I’d have something to sing. I did one pass and said, ‘Give me another track so I can try out a harmony.’ I did that in one pass as well and that was that. It’s really a good sign—and definitely the pattern of things for this particular record—when things happen so easily and naturally.”

Directed by long-time visual collaborator David Dalglish, the recently released video is a cinematic meditation on the passage of time and our potential watery demise. And as the video suggests, what of our things and our world if we’re no longer here to give them meaning? 

New Audio: The Legendary Mavis Staples Teams Up with Jeff Tweedy on a Much-Needed Anthemic Bit of Uplift

Throughout the course of this site’s almost ten year history, I’ve managed to spill quite a bit of virtual ink covering the legendary Chicago-born singer, actress, and civil rights activist Mavis Staples. Going into a deep dive into her career as a member of the Staple Singers and and a solo artist will be a bit gratuitous — but throughout her career, she has received commercial and critical success, as well as a proverbial boatload of accolades. Stapes has received eight Grammy Awards nominations with the Staple Singers, winning one — a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2004. She also received a Grammy nod for a collaboration with longtime friend Bob Dylan. And as a solo artist, she’s been nominated for five Grammys, winning two — Best Americana Album for 2010’s You Are Not Alone and a Best American Roots Performance for  2015’s ”See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.”

She also has been nominated for 11 Blues Music Awards, winning nine, including Album of the Year for 2004’s Have A Little Faith, which featured Song of the Year and album title track “Have A Little Faith.” She’s also won three Soul Blues Female Artist Awards — one in 2004 and back to back wins in 2017 and 2018. Staples was also inducted into Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Staple Singers in 1999, was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 2016 and inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2017.

The legendary Chicago-born singer, actress and civil rights activist turned 80 last year and with her achievements, it would be understandable if she had begun to slow down; however, over the past handful of years, Staples has been remarkably busy, releasing three critically applauded albums with Wilco‘s Jeff Tweedy and last year’s Ben Harper written and produced, We Get By.

Fittingly, Staples’ latest single is the hopeful and upbeat Jeff Tweedy-produced, “All In It Together,” which also features Tweedy contributing backing vocals and guitar. Centered around a shuffling, Chicago blues-like arrangement of twinkling keys, strummed guitar, a rousing hook and Staples’ imitable vocals, the track speaks directly to our current sociopolitical moment, while gently reminding the listener that at the end of the day, we’re all in this together. And that if we don’t get together at this most important moment in our collective history, then we’re all doomed. 

“The song speaks to what we’re going through now – everyone is in this together, whether you like it or not,” the legendary vocalist explains in press notes. “It doesn’t matter how much money you have, what race or sex you are, where you live…it can still touch you. It’s hit so many people in our country and around the world in such a horrible way and I just hope this song can bring a little light to the darkness. We will get through this but we’re going to have to do it together. If this song is able to bring any happiness or relief to anyone out there in even the smallest way, I wanted to make sure that I helped to do that.”

The song is available on all streaming services and Bandcamp. All proceeds from the song will be donated to My Block, My Hood, My City, a Chicago-based organization that ensures seniors will have access to the essentials needed to fight COVID-19. 

Back in 1990, the mysterious San Diego-based act The Cry quietly released Beautiful Reasons. Several songs off Beautiful Reasons were included in the H-Street Skateboards’ video Hokus Pokus, which was also released that year. The band started to increasingly attention and were being courted by a major label — and then they did something completely unexpected: they disappeared without much of a trace.

Although at the time, Beautiful Reasons only had a limited cassette release, the album has  grown in stature among their original fans while attracting new fans. Centered around heartfelt vocals, jangling and shimmying guitars, upbeat drumming and propulsive bass lines, the album has become a cult favorite among jangle pop and indie rock circles. Interestingly, over the years Hokus Pokus has become regarded as arguably one of the most iconic skateboard videos ever made — with its soundtrack highly praised.

Beautiful Reasons was recently uploaded onto the digital streaming platforms — and naturally that has brought increased attention back to the album and to the band. Encouraged and empowered by their fans and supporters, the members of The Cry quietly reunited in 2017. And since their reunion, the band has released a string of new material that has cemented their-long held reputation for crafting upbeat, earnest, hook-driven material — but with a heightened self-assuredness and confidence. 30 years after the release of their seminal album, the band will be releasing a string of singles and are currently working on a full-length album that’s tentatively slated for release later this year.

In the meantime, the San Diego-based act’s latest single “This Hazy Morning” is a anthemic hook-driven bit of jangle pop centered around shimmering and reverb-drenched guitars, mellifluous, earnestly yearning vocals and a propulsive rhythm section, the song manages to bring Crocodiles and Heaven Up Here-era Echo and the Bunnymen — and with a similar, swaggering self-assuredness.

 

 

 

 

New Video: The Dream Syndicate Releases a Haunting Meditation on Time and Mortality

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.