The Dream Syndicate were a California band but their most obvious influences were New York bands from two different generations – The Velvet Underground and Television. Lyrically they have a very different bent – less intellectual than Reed, less poetic than Television king-pin Tom Verlaine. But the near deadpan vocal delivery is instantly familiar, as is the minimalist approach of the rhythm section. And whilst they developed a potent guitar attack they did that in a rather different way than Television’s twin guitar attack of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd.
Indeed the most interesting thing for me about this album is Karl Precoda’s electric guitar work. Sometimes he seems concerned with sheer noise – by which I mean that pitch is not his primary concern . Often he plays with a lot of overdrive and the guitar seemingly on the edge of feedback – or just plain going over that edge. All of which may not sound very attractive as written words, but on the record he makes a truly marvellous noise.
Precoda really gets going mid-album. “When You Smile” has delicious squalls of feedback alongside Steve Wynn’s more conventional rhythm guitar before he essays a solo (actually soloS as he overdubs an additional part) that is short on notes per second but long on muscular authority. “Halloween” (his one composition on this record) has a distorted riff that recalls Neil Young and Crazy Horse – but with more attitude. “Then She Remembers” is a punk thrash with Precoda choking the guitar into submission. He unleashes unusual tonalities and controlled (maybe) feedback on “Until Lately”, the guitar’s wildness rising with Wynn’s vocal.
The band, like so many before and since, initially made their name as a live act and were expected to do well with a record deal. Maybe they were in the right place at the wrong time. They got an album in the stores just as MTV was making it’s presence felt. They were altogether too jarring and edgy for a market turning to AOR stadium rock. Their post-Velvet’s, post-Television sound was, in that era, never likely to be more than an underground proposition and Precoda was one of the casualties of the band’s passage through the music business meat grinder, leaving after a couple of years (the band as a unit didn’t survive into the 90s).
But there’s still time for those of us who missed out in real time to catch up now – and The Dream Syndicate are well worth the time effort and not very large outlay (I buy mostly from iTunes these days). The band have their influences and don’t hide that, but they manage to build on those influences and still come up with something that is rewarding and inventive in it’s own right, they generate genuine energy and drama, and Precoda is a distinctive and potent guitar stylist (or was, he seems to have quit the music business for good after parting ways with The Dream Syndicate).