The Ponytail guitarist's second solo LP is more mature and confident than anything in his catalogue, running his brightly colored guitar tones along tricky structures and playing for a broader, more noise-averse audience.
You know those records that weigh so heavily on your very soul? The records that creep with you into the dark recesses to give you solace and assure you that they understand your pain? This isn’t one of them.
God bless records like Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads, the ones that wouldn’t know the meaning of pain if it fell on top of them like an airborne piano. They live in a self-contained world of beauty and contentment, and function seemingly as pleasant getaways when that’s all it is you’re after. Thrill Jockey has provided a home for a number of them; The Sea and Cake’s Nassau and almost all of Mouse on Mars’ albums come to mind. And now, the Chicago label has carved out a space for Baltimore-based guitarist Dustin Wong, who gives us a wonderful musical diversion for which to admire butterflies in the air, not to mention the second-best record of his young yet fruitful career.
Wong’s bright, ringing tones practically define the indie rock guitar sound of the late 2000s and early 2010s, though they are instantly recognizable and attributable to him. They’re as resonant as church bells but they twinkle like wind chimes, and when Wong rocks out—as he frequently does in his main band, Ponytail, and does here too—they splash like glitter and paint. Like Scott Kannenberg of Pavement and Lou Barlow of Sebadoh, Wong’s guitar sings. Its range is truly impressive, but even with the abundance of technology that Wong bestows upon its instrument, it always sounds just like a guitar. Rock purists should be thrilled to hear it.
Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads should excite followers of Wong’s music as well. After playing minimal college rock as one half of Ecstatic Sunshine, and spazzing out in Ponytail as only that band can, Wong has graduated to a more mature level of musicianship, while losing none of his charm behind the strings. Ideas from his previous material can be heard here quite clearly. On Ecstatic Sunshine’s Freckle Wars in 2006, he and Matt Papich leaned back in their beanbag chairs and ran through a series of fast, simple guitar harmonies. Now, Wong himself carries an entire harmonic orchestra, and incorporates minimalist phasing and advanced time signatures. Wong had written a big, double-disc solo album of guitar musings, Infinite Love, in 2010, but most of its songs didn’t click. It wouldn’t surprise me very much if Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads involved a lot more thought and planning, even as it sounds far more relaxed and flows more smoothly than its predecessor.
Dreams Say succeeds on a number of levels, one of which involves bringing the delightfully spastic guitar work of Ponytail to an audience that shuns too much dissonance. While Ponytail’s Ice Cream Spiritual may be Wong’s best album overall—it’s a signal piece of music, where the parts transcend pure noise and burst into a thousand colored stars—it is certainly not for everyone, and this album approximates his best guitar work on record quite nicely. Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads hits apotheosis after apotheosis: “Abstract Horse Slow Motion” appears to be the climax until the next track arrives, and the following track manages to one-up the one before it. And that’s just the beginning. Each song graces the ears in a slightly different way, and picking out favorites is part of the fun. But if you prefer to be carried off to a mighty nice place for a shade under an hour, just put on the record and let it do its thing. It may prove to be the hard rocker’s definitive daydream album of 2012.