Since there weren't exactly a whole lot of kickass guitar bands going around back when this album was released in 1982, The Dream Syndicate seemed pretty unique at the time. Of course, most of the album merely takes off on the louder side of The Velvet Underground (indeed, they were named after an early LaMonte Young band that included John Cale), which isn't really a knock on The Dream Syndicate since they do what they do really well. A primary difference between this album and say, White Light/White Heat is that the sound is much cleaner, and Cale isn't around to really weird things up (the drones are kept to a minimum, for example). In addition to his plain spoken vocal style, Steve Wynn shares with Lou Reed a gift for strong songwriting. This is immediately apparent on the excellent opener "Tell Me When It's Over," which features a great ringing riff, Wynn's easy going vocal delivery, fuzzy rhythms in the background, and a good lyric to boot. The pace picks up on "Definitely Clean," which is propelled forward by Dennis Duck's Moe Tucker-styled beats. It's not as hooky as "Tell Me When It's Over," but this is still a fine song, with angular riffs, admirable amounts of energy, and gnarled guitar parts from the underrated Karl Precoda, whose ragged, jagged guitar runs (when teamed with Wynn) are this album's primary attraction. For proof, check out his wailing interjections at around the 2-minute mark of the mid-tempo "That's What You Always Say," another strong showcase for what a great groove band this was. Of course, that song's groove is nothing compared to the high octane "Then She Remembers," which is almost too VU for its own good. Wynn even sighs like Lou (making his claim that he had never heard The Velvet Underground at the time of this album's release all the more ridiculous), and he sings a lyric that sounds like something Lou would've written way back when. Yet that groove ultimately overcomes its derivative origins in a big way, and "Halloween" (actually written by Precoda and my favorite track on the album) is even better, being a glorious mid-tempo guitar epic that I'm sure Yo La Tengo and Sonic Youth must've memorized. Again, this dreamy yet rocking song is all about its groove and Precoda/Wynn's feedback laced guitar runs, and it ends a first side that's really good. Alas, as is often the case, the second half of the album is less impressive, though I'd be hard pressed to call any of the remaining songs "filler." Besides, at least the band varies things up by imitating John Cale ("When You Smile") and Nico ("Too Little, Too Late," sung by bassist Kendra Smith) instead of Reed, and "Until Lately" has another groovy mid-tempo chug that entices more often than not. Arguably saving the best for last, the title track is an incredibly intense epic, led again by Duck's driving beats. It's really the sense of anticipation that makes this song so exciting, as it never quite explodes into the full-bore guitar freakout that it always seems to be on the verge of becoming. Still, the rumbling bass runs and chugga chugga guitar parts duly compensate, and the song provides a fitting finale to an extremely enjoyable first album that ultimately transcends any Velvet-y comparisons.
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