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No New Abnormal

Tag: chris cacavas

The Dream Syndicate’s Most Epic, Psychedelic Masterpiece: A New Double Vinyl Record

The Dream Syndicate distinguish themselves from the legions of jambands out there with the sheer intensity and focus of the guitar duels between bandleader Steve Wynn and lead player Jason Victor – and their songs’ carefully crafted narratives. One of the band’s signature moves is to take Wynn’s tightly wound three-and-a-half-minute riff-rock gems and thrash the hell out of them.

Their new double viinyl album, The Universe Inside – streaming at Bandcamp – takes a turn in a radically different direction. It’s a suite, by far the band’s most psychedelic record: history may judge this as the fullest realization of the vision Wynn introduced on the band’s influential debut, The Days of Wine and Roses. There are element of jazz, art-rock and latin music here, but ultimately this is its own animal.

Bassist Mark Walton more or less loops a catchy, dry, trebly riff as Wynn and Victor triangulate in a spare exchange with guest Stephen McCarthy’s lingering guitar-sitar to open the album’s twenty-minute first track, The Regulator. Shards of reverb and sputters of sparks from the amps punctuate those succinct phrases amid the swirl and pulse: Chris Cacavas’ echoey electric piano becomes the icing on this space cake. With drummer Dennis Duck and percussionist Johnny Hott’s supple shuffle groove, Carlos Santana’s late 60s jams come to mind, but also Isaac Hayes’ sprawling psychedelic soul vamps – and Meddle-era Pink Floyd, and Angelo Badalamenti’s David Lynch film themes.

There’s a spoken-word vocal that concerns soothing the soul and blown fuses, both things this band know something about. Marcus Tenney’s one-man horn section wafts through the mix – some sax, some trumpet, sometimes both, frequently evoking Sonny Rollins’ work on the Stones’ Waiting on a Friend. It ends as you would expect it

The groove expands, the spacerock becoming more drifty in the second track, The Longing. This tragedy occurred “Like it happened moments ago, distant across the chasm…the harder you try to fix it, eliminate, deep-six it, all that remains is the longing,” Wynn sings, pushing against the top of his register.

The three six-string guys – that’s McCarthy on six-string bass here – trade off warmly major-key Ticket to Ride phrases as Apropos Of Nothing gets underway. It’s a classic, cynical, allusively grim Wynn narrative

What were you expecting
What did you become
Apropos of nothing
Chain reaction before the fall

And just when the band have lulled you into an alterred state, they hit a crunchy, roaring What Goes On drive.

The sardonic jousting that introduces the instrumental Dusting Off the Rust – a line from The Regulator – is one of the album’s funniest moments. This one’s a gritty slinker, a trippy dichotomy of punchy riffs and swirling cascades in the same vein as the spidery Topanga Canyon Freaks, from Wynn’s iconic 2001 Here Come the Miracles album.

The record’s final cut, The Slowest Rendition rises from a web of aching bent-note cries, to a pummeling drive and then a brooding, summery haze. Elegantly animated interplay aside, it’s one of Wynn’s most haunting, death-fixated songs. “Chaos flickers in the night” on “this silent, darkening, empty beach,” his disembodied narrator bracing for what comes next as the sax winds down. It’s an apt ending from the guy who wrote John Coltrane Stereo Blues. If there’s still a reason, or a means, for music blogs to exist at the end of 2020 – let’s hope there are – you will see this high on the annual best album of the year list here

The Plastic Pals Put Their Edgy Spin on Classic New Wave Era Sounds

The Plastic Pals‘ name is a dead giveaway for their sound: ferocious, wickedly tuneful late 70s/early 80s-style new wave and garage-punk. If the Stockholm rockers had recorded their latest album Turn the Tide in 1979 and then had been forgottten, it would be regarded as a lost classic today. The whole thing is streaming at their Soundcloud page, along with their other excellent albums. Yet what they do isn’t purely retro: they add their own guitar-fueled edge and sardonic worldview to well-loved, edgy styles from the late 70s and early 80s. Frontman Håkan “Hawk” Soold sings in good English, with a dry sense of humor that often recalls a classic European band from the new wave era, Holland’s Gruppo Sportivo. Ex-Green on Red keyboardist Chris Cacavas’ production is purist and period-perfect: the growling guitars of Soold and Anders Sahlin in each channel, terse and catchy with no wasted notes, Bengt Alm’s bass and Olov Öqvist’s drums in back, vocals up front where they should be.

One thing that sets the Plastic Pals apart from most of the original new wave bands is that their songs are a lot longer. One of the album’s most spine-tingling tracks, A Couple of Minutes is a good example, a cruelly vengeful, wickedly catchy account of a battered wife. The album’s title track works a bouncy, soul-tinged vintage Elvis Costello vein, a cynical look at how the current global depression hits you between the eyes. Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea nicks the tune from the late 80s Tom Petty/Jeff Lynne hit Runinng Down a Dream and takes it to the next level, with some neat clean/dirty guitar contrasts and a wry Rolling Stones quote at the end. And they go into swaying 6/8 groove for the junkie blues ballad Caramel, She Said, with a hard-hitting, anthemic guitar solo midway through.

Cards sets a biting, bluesy lead over marching multitracked guitars: there are echoes of early Squeeze, the Larch and Radio Birdman in there. Leave It Til Tomorrow has a funky, Stonesy vibe: “Stuck in this tragic sitcom – hey, write me out of the script,” Soold asserts. Miracles follows a slowly ominous, jangly, psychedelic soul-tinged tangent that brings to mind Golden Earring at their most focused. The most memorable song here is the bittersweetly anthemic Providence: with its surreal, nocturnal storyline and blend of country and Memphis soul, it could be the great lost Wallflowers hit. Close behind it is the richly anthemic, soaringly triumphant yet apprehensive All the Way.

The Final Remedy works a late-70s powerpop radio vibe but with better production values. The Sweet Spot again brings to mind Gruppo Sportivo, with its tongue-in-cheek story of a clandestine hookup, half sarcastic, half dead-serious, with some seriously catchy major/minor changes. Traveling completely rips the Radio Birdman classic Man with Golden Helmet, but with its fiery, bluesy guitars and alienated lyrics, it’s a killer song anyway. And Wouldn’t Change a Thing brings to mind Willie Nile at his anthemic best, burning, blues-infused guitars fueling a creepy, phantasmagorical tale. It’s one of the best albums of the year and makes you wonder who else in Stockholm might be making music this good.

Earlier this fall, the Plastic Pals did a brief Dives of New York tour with their pals Band of Outsiders, so it’s not unrealistic to expect them back at some point: watch this space.