The Dream Syndicate: How Did I Find Myself Here? (2017)
I was pleasantly surprised to find Dream Syndicate's 2017 return after a long break (nearly 30 years since their last studio album) to fall into the latter category. If anything, I enjoyed the album more than much of their original output. And sure, to be fair, it's not like frontman Steve Wynn had ever taken a break, with a prolific and often great career as a solo artist and fronting various other bands in the interim, but the Dream Syndicate reunion album really does sound like revisiting an old friend and not just another Wynn solo album with some familiar backing band members.
Part of the 80s "Paisley Underground," the Dream Syndicate owed more to the darker side of the Velvet Underground (and maybe Neil Young's Crazy Horse work) than they did to the more buoyant jangly psychedelia of some of their peers. But while 1982's debut The Days of Wine And Roses is an indisputable classic, and several follow-up albums were nearly as great, the newly active Dream Syndicate has aged remarkably well. I'd say it's partially due to some stellar songs, and partially due to a much fuller, denser sound than on those earlier albums.
Songwise you've got the terrific lead-off track "Filter Me Through You," a languid, psychedelic riff with a mellow vibe; the raging, punk-fueled "Out of My Mind"; the lengthy, trippy headphone epic title track; and the momentary guest shot by original bassist Kendra Smith on album-closer "Kendra's Dream," a dark, hazy, spoken word poem over a grooving jam that is more reminiscent of Smith's time in Opal (where she had briefly resided alongside former Rain Parade and future Mazzy Star guitarist David Roback). But my favorite may be "80 West," a film noir saga overlaying an insistent surf-y sounding riff. And while Wynn's songs are fantastic, and the entire band is tight, I'd give a special shout-out to the new lead guitarist Jason Victor, who provides the riveting jams that keep the album interesting.
But beyond the songs and the performances, the other key here is the production. As much as I enjoyed the band's initial run, it was sometimes hindered by thin production that didn't do justice to the band's jammier side; that's not an issue here, with a bold, full sound and tasteful employment of distortion and feedback, making them sound more like Yo La Tengo or Built to Spill than the 60s garage rock bands hinted at in their prior work.
(I'd note that Wynn proved this was not just a one-shot deal, as this year's These Times is a comparably strong follow-up. I also got to see the reformed band opening for Matthew Sweet last year, and it was among the best live performances I've seen in a long time, definitely not to be missed.)
Here's the video for "Filter Me Through You":