OK here goes, I’m a little nervous. Here’s the thing. I have written around 75 album reviews this year, yet I’ve still got a few butterflies. Why? Well every so often an album comes along that you really really want to do justice to. An album that you want to be able to describe to people in a way that explains to them just why you want them to hear it. I’ve probably listened to this Dreamtime album around ten times now and, spoiler alert, I’m probably going to run out of superlatives at some point during this review. Hunker down because this is going to be a long one.
Dreamtime are a band that I have been vaguely aware of for a few years, but only really came into focus when UK label Cardinal Fuzz released re-pressings of the band’s first two albums ‘Dreamtime‘ and ‘Sun‘ earlier this year. They were releases that set the bar high for 2016 early on, and are both albums that I have regularly pulled out of the shelf ever since. Then in the summer news began to emerge that the band were ready to put out their third album (the first new release in three years), and that it was going to be a double, and that it was recorded on an old analogue deck. As a vinyl fan it was beside myself with excitement. Having now become reasonably well acquainted with it digitally I have to say that it had thus far exceeded my high expectations, and what’s it going to be like when I finally put needle on wax?
Ok, so let’s get down to it. First of all I’m going to leave it to the band to describe the concept of the album, here’s what’s on the bandcamp page:
“For the development of their latest opus, Dreamtime went about creating an imaginary, dream-like sci-fi fantasy film that follows a spirit’s journey from the human body through death, mystic rituals, the spirit world, a soul’s liberation into the cosmos, multiple reincarnations, and out into astral journeys and alien encounters. It’s a vivid exploration of euphoric fantasy and paranoid nightmares that is sure to stand as one of the most ambitiously creative projects the international psychedelic-rock scene has seen in many a moon. For intrepid psychonauts wishing to hitch a ride, Dreamtime hits all of the sweetest aural spots: heavy tribal grooves on the opening track “Luminous Night”, laid back folk-rock trad on “River Spites”, propulsive, full-on fuzztone during “The Sentient,” and the celestial lysergia that is the album’s epic title track, all interwoven together with kosmische analogue synth swirls and space oscillations.”
Well if that has whetted your appetite here goes with my own humble opinion.
The album opens beautifully with ‘Luminous Night’, atmospheric analogue synths set the luscious tone from the outset as the track, and album, slowly takes off into the sort of rich tribal track that will have fans of Goat breaking out into some sort of frenzy. The harmonies here are just perfect as, straight away – even on an mp3 recording – the richness of the production shines through. During the breaks in-between is lovely 70s psych guitar over some pounding tribal drums…as once more those synths ring out like a siren call to the journey on which we are embarking. Get your space hats on…off we go…its a luminous night and the scene is well and truly set.
As we arrive at the ‘Golden Altar’ we get a sense of the sacred with the measured drums and hushed tones of the bass and guitar, augmented by simple siren voices calling us to the ritual. Then gradually the organ speeds us up into a whirling frenzy as we access what I assume to be the spirit realm, the music taking us deeper into the trance-like ritual state. At this point the guitar licks are soothing without being overpowering, and the ritual occurs amidst chanting and otherworldly playing as the whole experience moves towards a climax of soaring guitars, throbbing bass and pounding drums; before falling back and out of the trance.
Ritual completed we can now move forward on our journey as, I assume, we encounter ‘River Sprites’. A slower more considered track after the dervish excitement of ‘Golden Altar’, here we get the sense of embarkation and initial wonder. This is a much more simple song with heavy folk influence, again there is a seventies feel to this with elements of Zeppelin…it feels. though, like the calm before the storm.
‘Fire’ has an Eastern feel to it with the Shahi Baaja coming to the fore along with Tabla-style percussion. The track has a real sense of movement to it, of taking off onto the astral plane. Again this is a track that will please Goat fans (to give it some context) and when the vocals reach their peak the feeling is nothing short of stunning. This for me is a real WOW track with its peaks and starts. It’s a track that really takes you somewhere else and give you a sense of the luminous…and that’s bloody rare.
After that tour de force Dreamtime somehow manage to keep it going with ‘Ascension’ a track that has me on the verge of tears such is the fullness and magnificence of its structure and execution. The interplay of male and female voices on top of a theremin is just about as near perfect as anything I’ve heard this year. The sense of danger and wonder is palpable as the sinister yet irresistible melody draws you right into the music…’sonic nirvana’ is all I can think of to write at this point.
Next up is lead track from the album, ‘The Sentient’ that was previously premiered here. As I said then “it is an absolute nailed on banger! Beginning like an eerie soundtrack to a seventies sci-fi horror flick the pulsating sounds are gradually ramped up until you know that something explosive is going to happen. Nothing, though, prepares you for the tsunami of sound that comes out of the speakers as that total guitar attack hits you clean between the eyes. Once you’ve recovered from that you begin to appreciate the intricacies of the music which, while a full on assault contain many subtleties that draw on influences from the last forty years of great rock music, with some great electronica swirling through the track.” Now listening to it in the context of the album, it feels like a massively powerful encounter with a higher being…Whatever it is, it is an astounding track.
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Having listened to ‘The Sentient’ in isolation quite a bit, I had been wondering how it would fit into the album and, like many of the tracks on here, how you could possibly follow it. ‘Strange Pleasures’ is a different beast altogether. Beginning with some gorgeous guitar work we again get folk vocals, but this time with a more rock backing track and some wonderful synth sounds emerging to augment the number giving it both depth and character. This feels like the point where the journey stops, perhaps a turning point? Let’s see what comes next. Well halfway through the cycle of the track begins again as if to welcome a repeat of the ‘strangle pleasures’ that are being savoured. Yet by the end there is a sense of the forbidden, and by the end this has become an intense and vibrant megalith of a track.
The title of the next track ‘Celestial Spores’ is very suggestive of the sort of encounter it is describing. This is borne out by the other-worldly nature of the intro which involves synths swirling around a simple riff before a lull that slowly opens out into a still and spacey (in both meaning of the world) come down segueing naturally into ‘Spectral Entropy’. Here things get very weird indeed as the title is sonically played out…disintegration…but then we are up in the stars on a space rock journey that would grace an album of any band from that genre. Fittingly the longest track of the set this somehow feels like the pay off for what we have thus far experienced. It is a track that you can fully drift away to and let it carry you wherever you want to go, surely the essence of space rock.
Where are we? After that we could be anywhere. We have been through the spiritual and the spatial, and ‘Gamma Gobulin’ suggests a disorientation. A coming down. The heart-beat gives a sense of reality. Of coming to. Of returning to the mundane. The animal sounds and dripping suggestive of danger, of being in a cave. Of being back in the putrid dystopia of twenty first century life.
Finally comes ‘Serpent’s Tongue’, a track that originally came out in 2014 and, I believe, not strictly part of the ‘Strange Pleasures’ concept. However, it works well here as a post script to the journey that the album takes us on and somehow underlines the reality that we are left with, and on its own a stunning track that stacks up well with the rest of the album.
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This Dreamtime album isn’t one that you can just listen to and ‘get’ straight away. This isn’t an album that you put on in the background. This is an album that wants to take you on a journey. It’s an album that makes you want to feel, to experience things. It’s an album that will reward you more and more with every play. It’s an album that feels like every single bar has been meticulously thought through to produce just what the band want to do, right down to the fantastic art work by Indonesian artist Riandy Karuniawan. It’s the album I have been waiting for, and, if I didn’t know that before…I do now. I’m now going to go and lie down into a darkened room now…and listen to it again!
How did I do?
‘Strange Pleasures’ is released on Cardinal Fuzz (Europe), Sky Lantern Records (North America) and TYM Records (Australia) on 2nd December 2016, with a limited release of 500 vinyl copies and 90 CDrs – both have beautiful gatefold sleeves.
You can find my other writing for Backseat Mafia here.