Dream Syndicate – How Did I Find Myself Here? (2017)

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Back in February 2014, I caught the Dream Syndicate in Toronto at one of their reunion shows. It was a great gig: The band played the classics from their catalogue and played them well, proving they still had lots of fuel in the proverbial tank.

Of course, fans of the band were ecstatic when word had it a new Dream Syndicate album was scheduled for sometime in 2017, and September saw the release of the band’s first album of new material in 29 years, titled How Did I Find Myself Here?

The line-up on this project includes singer/songwriter/guitarist and overall musical show-runner Steve Wynn, original drummer Dennis Duck, long-serving bassist Mark Walton, and newcomer lead guitarist Jason Victor – the latter of whom is on loan from Wynn’s more recent band, the Miracle 3. Also from the Miracle 3 is Linda Pitmon on percussion and backing vocals here and there, as well as indie-rock mainstay Chris Cacavas on keyboards and co-production. Original bassist/vocalist Kendra Smith even makes an appearance, after having been absent since 1982’s definitive release The Days of Wine and Roses.

Based on those names alone, there was a sense of heightened sense of anticipation leading up to the album’s release. Fortunately, those expectations were more than met.

In many ways, How Did I Find Myself Here? encapsulates everything that made the Dream Syndicate a central force in the Paisley Underground scene of California indie music back in the early 1980s. Scattered throughout the album, one can find elements of psychedelia, garage rock, avant-noise weirdness and melodic pop workouts – all wrapped up in a film noir lyrical ethic set against some mythical SoCal desert dreamscape. Everyone seems to be firing on all cylinders here.

In particular, Jason Victor turns out to be the secret weapon. While maintaining his own guitar style, he manages the near impossible feat of combining the melodic guitar lines of later Dream Syndicate guitarist Paul Cutler with the more angular, aggressive approach of original six-string slinger Karl Precoda.

It does bring up an interesting question though: Is the current Dream Syndicate incarnation just the old band with the Miracle 3 guitar player swapped in, or is it just the Miracle 3 with the Dream Syndicate rhythm section? It’s a very subtle difference: as already mentioned, the guitar playing is a shade different, but so is the drumming. Dennis Duck tends to find a groove and hold it down, while Miracle 3 drummer Linda Pitmon plays with more swing and dynamic. Not that one is better than the other; it’s just slightly different approaches to the same material.

In some ways, this album is understood less well as a singular release and better in the context of Steve Wynn’s overall career. No matter what band he’s working with, or recording under his own banner, Wynn’s material has always been very identifiably his own. How Did I Find Myself Here? is not an exercise in nostalgia, but an intentional step by an artist pursuing his muse.

Put it this way: if you like the old Dream Syndicate, the Miracle 3, the Baseball Project, or any of Steve Wynn’s solo work, you’ll like this album. Hopefully, it won’t be another nearly 30 years until the next one.

JC Mosquito

JC Mosquito

JC Mosquito spends most of his day keeping the wolves from the door. When he's not occupied with this pastime, he's interested in all things rock and roll -- which may or may not have died back in the late 1950s, the late 1970s, or the early '90s, depending on who you believe. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
JC Mosquito
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