PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

The Dream Syndicate Continue to Innovate with 'These Times'

Photo: Linda Pitmon / Anti- Records

It sounds like the 21st century Dream Syndicate is here to stay with These Times, and that's worth celebrating.

These Times
The Dream Syndicate


3 May 2019

In a recent interview with PopMatters, Steve Wynn describes their 2017 album How Did I Find Myself Here? as both "a kind of rebirth" for the band and "a little bit of a bridge to the past". Certainly, fans who cherished the bands' four 1980s records found a lot to reconnect to, but Wynn has always looked forward more than back. Now that they return with another collection of new material, he and the band feel less restricted by their past, more open to new directions. Comparing past and present, he tells PopMatters, "I feel like we share a name with a band from that decade and cover some of their songs, but we're somebody else at this point."

It has always been a characteristic of Dream Syndicate not to do anything twice. While there might be an identifiable Dream Syndicate sound, it is not contained within any specific rule or structure. Remember how many American critics hated Medicine Show for refusing to follow the expected formula set by Days of Wine and Roses? Remember how many wrote off Ghost Stories because the band had the alacrity to create immediately accessible songs?). These Times is a new Dream Syndicate record that sounds less like the previous Dream Syndicate record, making it a standard Dream Syndicate record, with songs well beyond any standard.

These Times' opening track "The Way In" can be heard as a statement of purpose for Dream Syndicate in the 21st century. "Tryin' to reconcile the past with the present," Wynn sings, "Which one fits and which one doesn't / And we shed our skin just to find a way in." Wynn, Dennis Duck, Mark Walton, and Jason Victor have become, over five years of touring, one of the most vibrant live bands out there. This road-burnished lineup is arguably a better and stronger music machine than they were, even, in their 1980s heyday. "The Way In" is the sound of a band shedding its skin and emerging renewed, refreshed, and more dangerous than before.

"Put Some Miles On" amplifies that new energy. It's a droning and ominous road song where Wynn's narrator talk-sings himself awake to the AM radio, popping pills as the landscape rolls by. It evokes comparison to another of America's great composers of road songs, Pere Ubu's David Thomas. This song shares its mood with "Dark" from Ubu's 2002 album St. Arkansas. In both, there's a shared sense of expansiveness and claustrophobia: these narrators can cross the great divide, put miles between random destinations, but can never escape themselves. A few songs later, "Recovery Mode" returns to this lost but not standing still vibe, with Wynn singing, "Thrashing at the scenery with random sensibility / Give me distraction, get me in on the action."

There's a great variety of sound here, with the band finding assorted patterns and grooves that they haven't previously explored, embracing new possibilities for the sheer joy in the collective exploration. "Black Light" is unlike any song Dream Syndicate has ever recorded; it could be their take on Johnny Cash fronting Suicide. Meanwhile, "The Whole World Is Watching" might be described as Steely Dan-noir in its instrumental structure. These Days is the sound of a band daring themselves to turn off the usual filters and try new things. A Dream Syndicate record is never not going to be dark and heavy, but at the same time, you can hear the joy they bring to playing these songs together.

In his own assessment of the new record, PopMatters' Jedd Beaudoin says "This is not a band competing with its past but instead carving out a new future." I agree, and more. Despite its name, These Times is not a statement record. Wynn and Co. are not here positioning themselves as elder statesmen with a message for the young, at least, not if the message one is looking for is political. If there is a message to be read implicitly among these ten songs it is in the breadth of the musical stylings themselves. Before we began treating it as art, before we began parsing its lyrics for social context and cultural meaning, rock and roll was simply dance music, a collective statement of pleasure at the moment. Wynn's second iteration of the Dream Syndicate seems to embrace the simplicity of rock's origins. They're here to make good music and, if you make it to a show, rock your world. Sometimes, that's all that's necessary.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.