REVIEW: the Dream Syndicate’s “The Universe Inside” is Suitable for Long, Winding Road Trip


In the ever-expanding universe of Americana music, I have a few criteria, two of which are 1) is the instrumentation, for the most part, real and 2) can I drive to it (I live in Colorado, I have a Jeep, and I love to take the top down and go for long, aimless mountain jaunts). When considering the newest release from neo-psychedelia practitioners The Dream Syndicate, I found The Universe Inside chock-full of amazing musicianship and suitable for a long, winding road trip.

The songs on The Universe Inside are, to say the least, expansive, clocking in between seven and a half and 20-plus(!) minutes. That latter opus is the lead track, “The Regulator.” Paired with a video shot by David Dalglish, the song, at times lounge-y, other times nearly frantic and swirling with sax (courtesy of guest Marcus Tenney), paints a picture of adulthood in decay and youth stepping up to take over. Band founder Steve Wynn, in heavily-manipulated vocals, sings of “Calendar boys dusting off the rust/The scarcity of the soul/Blown fuses.” A little apocalyptic, but aren’t we all feeling a little that way right now?

Since the band’s 2012 return, their music has been based around four-minute rock songs with an experimental flair, with occasional detours into jam territory. Here, though, there are no such limits or boundaries. Perhaps guided by a sense of mortality that shows in his lyrics, Wynn has decided to make the album he’s long wanted. “(All That’s Left Is) The Longing,” a somewhat more straightforward song, directly addresses a life of efforts made, summed up during one last death rattle – “All that’s left from before/Is the final twitch and spasm.” “Apropos of Nothing” has a little bit of twang amongst its nine and a half minutes before a drastic tempo change two-thirds of the way through. And “Dusting Off The Rust” has the band doing just that, prog playing their hearts out in a nearly 10-minute instrumental.

The Universe Inside wraps with its most song-like offering, “The Slowest Rendition,” a two-parter stretched across eleven minutes. Part One, the most lyrical offering on the record, is a frank examination of putting away childish things – “To think I once would have welcomed/In delight, this chaos that flickers in the night” – and a true look at aging – “The waking hours and questions slowly seep/Into one another.” It’s a good damn song. Part Two features a tempo change, more sax, and a man grasping one last time for some measure of control: “I’m the amateur director/On a badly lit mystery.” We all want control. And, right now, none of us have it.

The Universe Inside was produced by John Agnello, Adrian Olsen and the band, recorded and mixed by Agnello and Olsen, and mastered by Greg Calbi. The Dream Syndicate is Wynn (lead vocals, guitar and harmonica), Jason Victor (guitar), Chris Cacavas (keys), Mark Walton (bass), and Dennis Duck (drums). Featured players include Stephen McCarthy (electric sitar, guitar, bass, pedal steel and background vocals), Marcus Tenney (sax and trumpet) and Johnny Hott (percussion).

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