As musical decades go, the 80‘s leave a lot to be desired.
When the Dream Syndicate released its 1982 debut album, The Days of Wine and Roses, on Slash subsidiary Ruby Records, artists like Olivia Neutron-Bomb, Toto and Bertie Higgins ruled the airwaves.
As always, dig a little deeper and there are gems to be found. In Los Angeles, four college students were the odd-folks out in a movement that would be unfortunately dubbed “The Paisley Underground.” Amid the emerging college-rock jangle The Dream Syndicate lit a corner of the scene like a film noir hotel sign.
Omnivore Recordings has done a public service and reissued Days of Wine and Roses, remastered with bonus tracks featuring the original lineup.
Opening with Dennis Duck’s rifle report-snare crack, “Tell Me When It’s Over,” signals a band that offers the attentive listener a thrilling ride. Karl Precoda’s serpentine, hypnotic guitar riff matches singer/songwriter Steve Wynn’s dis-entranced blend of Lou Reed and Bob Dylan vocals. And if calling a leadoff track “Tell Me When It’s Over,” isn’t the mark of a witty smart-ass, you ain’t paying attention.
Taking musical cues from The Velvet Underground and TV, these third generation guitar wranglers left a legacy for bands like Luna to genuflect in homage. Building from Kendra Smith’s loping bass line “That’s What You Always Say,” it escalates to a dynamic rage. Makes you wonder, if Kurt Cobain was listening to The Pixies, who was Black Francis listening to?
The white hot “Then She Remembers,” demonstrates the band on overdrive, while “Until Lately,” finds a psychotic vocal turn by Wynn that predates the Jim Thompson/Flannery O’Faulkner pulp storylines that would fuel the band’s follow up album, The Medicine Show. Smith’s vocal turn on “Too Little, Too Late,” coupled with a narcotic slide guitar could easily be heard in a prism, recalling Nico’s songs on the Velvet’s debut album.
The opportunity to interview Wynn back when the Dream Syndicate was on its last legs, and then later again when he kicked off his solo career, offered him a forum to connect the musical dots. On both occasions he was polite, witty and literate.
The twin towers of Precoda-penned “Halloween,” (Wynn cited the outro as homage to Television’s epic “Marquee Moon”) and the title cut lay out blueprints, fields of sound where the band can improvise. At times Precoda’s guitar sounds like it is going to fly apart at the wrenching and feedback. Wynn’s jagged, steady rhythm locks with Smith and Duck’s propulsion. It is a six minute masterpiece.
Recalling Neil Young’s first album with Crazy Horse, “The Days of Wine and Roses,” once again allows Duck and Smith to lock, and Wynn and Precoda load. Rising then falling, rhythm guitar sparks are set off by waves of feedback cresting on a musical shore. Sure, this song might be easily dismissed as American post-punk, but the engaged back and forth here also alludes to some of the great jazz horn duos of a certain vintage.
Producer Chris D. (leader of the criminally underrated band The Flesh Eaters), seems to take a hands off approach and simply hits the record button and stays out of the way. Aside from Precoda’s cascading riffs and tornados of feedback, this could be a live album. As antidote to the studio sheen of the day, Chris D.’s philosophy seems to be anti-production.
The bonus tracks here offer welcome glimpses into what might have been if the original line-up had not imploded. As consumers we have come to expect this sort of archaeology with reissues. But in this case it is not necessary. The nine track album stands the test of time.
After The Days of Wine and Roses, bassist Smith left to form Clay Allison which became Opal (and ultimately Mazzy Star, when Smith again moved on to a sporadic solo career). Precoda made it to the Sandy Pearlman (Blue Oyster Cult) produced Medicine Show album, where he was a perfect fit. Duck, loyal to the end, would rejoin Wynn for Dream Syndicate reunion shows in this decade.
Wynn, unlike many of his peers, has managed to carve out a viable career with solo albums and a number of side projects. With his band The Miracle Three and assorted limited projects and releases he kept his work at a high level and still tours regularly.
Three decades ago, four college kids recorded an album they could hang their hat on, in the process influencing countless bands that would follow.