As the frontman of Shudder to Think, one of the most singular bands of the 1990s, Craig Wedren often seemed to write lyrics the way an abstract painter works, mixing evocative images and provocative phrases that the diehards spent hours trying to decode. Their biggest hit, “X French Tee Shirt”, earned a coveted spot in the MTV Buzz Bin, which aimed to break new bands. Even though it was one of the more accessible songs on their major label debut, Pony Express Record, it’s one of the strangest hit songs of that or any decade, accompanied by an equally odd video. Shudder to Think’s unwillingness to compromise the sound and push into even less accessible territory with major label backing has made them one of the key bands of the decade.
As Shudder to Think began to wind down, they started working on soundtracks for indie films, and both Wedren and guitarist Nathan Larson found exciting new chapters, carving out careers in soundtracks and scores. You’ve likely heard Wedren’s work in a movie or show you love. Now he’s probably best known for his work on Showtime’s hit Yellowjackets and feature films such as School of Rock and the cult classic Wet Hot American Summer.
Along the way, Craig Wedren has periodically released solo albums, and The Dream Dreaming is the best one yet, a bright, mature pop album with controlled amounts of experimentation to keep his name on the tips of the tongues of his diehards, but with plenty of accessible tracks that could bring a whole new audience. This time out, Wedren also writes some of his most straightforward lyrics, detailing the ups and downs of love, sex, and growing older with his trademark wit, but not without some edge.
The Dream Dreaming came about during COVID lockdowns, initially designed to be a singles series with homemade music videos to accompany each song. Over time, he realized he had an album, but there are still plans to make videos for every track. Paul Cartwright’s strings are a highlight across the record, and they genuinely elevate opener “Fingers on Your Face”, a rush of upbeat synthpop, perfect for pushing away the winter doldrums. While Wedren’s impressionistic side is compelling, he can also deliver goosebumps or heartbreak with his words when he wants to, and the directness of this song makes it an inviting introduction to the record. Where Shudder to Think prided itself on challenging listeners, these days, Wedren kicks the doors wide open.
“Nothing Bad” gurgles and builds to a colossal synth chorus. It recalls his short-lived dance-pop project BABY, which must return to streaming services immediately. “Pronouns” is an amorous synthpop number. Elsewhere, echoes of his former band are present on songs like “W 52nd”, with its big chorus, the dissonant “Going Sane”, and the quiet “You Are Not Your Feelings”, recalls songs like “Rm. 9, Kentucky” from Pony Express Record and features perhaps the finest use of Cartwright’s strings. Closer “On My Tongue”, an ode to oral pleasure, ends the record sounding like that hit single Sony likely hoped Shudder to Think would deliver. Another pair of tracks would sound at home in a pivotal scene in Yellowjackets, with their short bursts of evocative soundscapes.
With his extensive success in scoring television shows, it’s easy to hope a music supervisor finds placement for evocative tracks like “Play Innocent”, which could easily be the end credits music in a rom-com, or “All Made Up” over the end credits of a tearjerker. It comes by the emotionality, honestly, as it is about Wedren’s father passing. Yellowjackets collaborator Anna Waronker gives this song an added dimension of pathos.
Craig Wedren’s balance of pop sensibilities and experimentation is as well-matched to the times as it has ever been, and it would be a shame if The Dream Dreaming didn’t bring him some accolades and new fans curious about what the Yellowjackets guy does when left to his own devices. For the diehards, it is confirmation that Wedren’s voice still sounds amazing, and he is still dedicated to chasing his own muse.