Camden creates a Rorschach palette of guitars and synths that allows the listener to create their own meaning.
What is a dream? The eight tracks on guitarist Ken Camden’s latest output for Kranky, Dream Memory, find a sonic answer embedded in the latter word of the album’s title: memory. Through his usage of the guitar as a replacement and complement to synths, as well as the looping of vocal samples via a machine called the Vocaltron, a Proustian world in which sounds evoke memories of dreams past.
Writing about an album such as Dream Memory comes with the same difficulties of translating one’s dreams. For a sonic palette created by drones and guitars, the Rorschach nature of the album creates different results for all listeners. In much the same way as dreams are interpreted in myriad ways depending on the speaker and receiver, such are the merits of drone rock in Camden’s vein. Surely, there’s a way to quantifiably discuss well-produced background noise, music whose ambiance is determined by all the variables of life. Play Dream Memory throughout the day, and notice separate responses. In a house crowded with friends, find meditative tickings that track conversation, becoming noticeable only at their lulls. By oneself, seeking to write about the album, find a flooding of words philosophizing about the intents of the post-rock soundscape. For your personal situation, the blanks are to be filled.
It’s worth noting that Camden makes use of a bowed guitar, like Sigur Rós frontman Jónsi, and comparing the glacial world the Icelanders create to the cold, spacelike futurism shows the spectrum of the instrument. It’s a shame that more artists don’t use it, but it’s a blessing that those who do have mastered its reach. This self-awareness reigns true on Dream Memory, with song titles like “The Melatonin Chamber” and “Asleep at the Wheel” indicating the kind of sleepy atmosphere induced by the minimalist traipsing of the guitar. But to praise the guitar only would ignore the masterful work done by the instrument Camden seeks to link his bowed beauty to.
Throughout Dream Memory, frilly synth workings pepper the guitar-based landscape like fluorescent trees on lush grass. From “The Melatonin Chamber”’s bouncy whispers to the title track’s stratospheric twinkles like stars winking in the night sky, they add a layer of seasoning to the smooth pulsating foundation made by Camden’s guitar. It’s a testament to the attention to detail paid on the production side of the album’s creation that the blending of disparate instruments created such a harmonious duo.
But in the end, the album doesn’t answer the question proposed at this review’s beginning. Instead, it reveals that the answer is different to everybody. Such is the same output of the album as a whole, eliciting various responses tailored to life’s specific and uncopyable situations. Dreams and memories alike are unique to those who experience them, and albums created without lyrics and with sparse compositions are often more defined by the situations surrounding the listening to the album as does the full album itself. Not to discredit what Camden’s produced, but instead to give it another positive layer; he understood this by titling the record Dream Memory. What is mine is different from what is yours, but through music, we can come together.