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Dream Syndicate - How Did I Find Myself Here?

  by John Clarkson

published: 2 / 10 / 2017

Dream Syndicate - How Did I Find Myself Here?
Label: Anti-
Format: CD


Extraordinary first album in 29 years from seminal Los Angeles alternative rock act the Dream Syndicate

If a cult group has produced a seminal debut album, there is often great expectation from fans and critics alike when they return from a long absence for them to release something that will match that first record. The Dream Syndicate's influential 1983 album ‘The Days of Wine and Roses’ cemented the gap between the Velvet Underground and Television and in its confrontation and abrasion much of what was to follow from the Jesus and Mary Chain to Husker Du and Swans in 80’s and 90’s alternative rock. It was such a product of its place and time that it would have been an impossible task to parallel it. ‘How Did I Find Myself Here?, the Dream Syndicate’s fifth album and first studio album in twenty-nine years, therefore, doesn’t quite touch the heights of ‘The Days of Wine and Roses’. It, however, comes very close, and, a fine rock record, it contains all the hallmarks of the Dream Syndicate’s past – the discordant guitars; the long instrumentals and front man Steve Wynn’s existential lyrics – that made them both loved and loathed in the early 1980’s. Yet, in part because of newest recruit Jason Victor’s instinctive, vibrant guitar work, it also sounds remarkably fresh and convincingly thrusts the Los Angeles-formed group into the 21st Century. At one level the Dream Syndicate sound as bleak as ever. Some of the tracks on ‘How Did I Find Myself Here?’ equal songs such as ‘Halloween’ and the title track from ‘The Days of Wine and Roses’ or ‘Armed with an Empty Gun’ and ‘Bullet with My Name on It’ from its 1984 follow-up ‘Medicine Show’ in their darkness and melancholy. The paranoiac, sleep-deprived narrator of the sinister, feedback-splashed ’80 West’, who has been days behind the wheel, knows that that there is trouble somewhere on the road behind or ahead of him, but never what ("Something happened out on 80 West/I can't figure it out/I can't figure it out"). In contrast the unhappy central character of the achingly sad ‘Like Mary’ – a song originally written in the 1980’s but never recorded and which combines chugging 1950’s rock and roll and 1960’s wistful psychedelia with vast, cavernous guitar lines – has been abandoned by both her husband and children, and realises amidst a blitz of pills with sudden clarity that life has never really got off the ground for her (“People spend their whole lives waiting like Mary”). The overall feeling that ‘How Did I Find Myself Here?’ leaves is, however, of the Dream Syndicate’s own exuberance at being back together and able to carry on after all these years away. “If I can’t have you or anything that reminds me of you/I’ll carry on so that you might miss me when I am gone/I am in the ether/It’s now or neither,” sings Wynn as opening lines on the first track, the strident, surging ‘Filter Me through You’. One feels that, rather than being about an on/off romance, he could be singing about his regenerated band, which he revived suddenly and by chance in 2012 when his regular group the Miracle 3 were unavailable for a festival in Bilbao in Spain. “I could fly/I may never get higher/I don’t have to come down/I don’t have to come down,” he continues on the six-and–a half minute second song ‘Glide’, amidst a backdrop of appropriately soaring guitars. The eleven-minute title and penultimate track owes the biggest debt to the Dream Syndicate’s early roots in jazz, when Wynn and the group's other remaining original drummer Dennis Duck both worked in record stores at the time ‘The Days of Wine And Roses’ was recorded and would work their way through their way through their shops' jazz sections. A rambling jam, Wynn and Victor’s guitars, Mark Walton’s tingling bass line and Duck’s meandering drums circle around each other, building ever upwards before Wynn’s vocals kick in at the nearly four minute mark. “I am wondering who put a spell on me and you/How did I find myself here?/Tripped up by my own game so I put my finger to the flame/How did I find myself here?” he ponders, perhaps giving the broadest hint of all at his surprise and pleasure at the Dream Syndicate’s reformation. Lastly, there is the much-heralded ‘Kendra’s Dream’, which brings the group’s original bassist Kendra Smith back into the fore in a cameo after an absence from music of over twenty years. Smith left the Dream Syndicate in 1983 shortly after ‘The Days of Wine and Roses’ was released and recorded one 1987 album ‘Happy Nightmare Baby’ with Opal and a solo album ‘Five Ways of Disappearing’ in 1995 for 4AD, before infamously dropping out to live in a small cabin without electricity in rural Northern California. Wynn originally wrote the song about a recurring nightmare that he had before handing the lyrics over to Smith who has reworked them into something gentler. When she sings at its end the repeated line of “it’s a beautiful dream”, she has confessed that it is about the Dream Syndicate both then and now. With its backdrop of softly escalating washes of discordant guitar, it is totally riveting and compelling. While acknowledging the past, ‘How Did I Find Myself Here?’ is an album very much of the present, and is one of the most life-affirming records of the year.

Track Listing:-
1 Filter Me Through You
2 Glide
3 Out of My Head
4 80 West
5 Like Mary
6 The Circle
7 How Did I Find Myself Here
8 Kendra's Dream

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