vinyl records

Vinyl Friday #20: The Dream Syndicate “The Days of Wine and Roses”


This is by far one of my favourite, if not my favourite Paisley Underground album. The Days of Wine and Roses was the first album by The Dream Syndicate, originally released in 1982. It’s a fantastic album that, like many of its time, is grossly over-looked by far too many.

The Dream Syndicate, like many bands in that scene, there is a heavy psychedelic feel to the album, particularly opening song and single “Tell Me When It’s Over”. But Dream Syndicate sound different than their contemporaries in one way in particular: the lyrics. While bands like The Bangles were heavily influenced by pop music, Wynn and co sound mature in the college-radio way.

Wynn’s song writing is fantastic. I think it’s unfortunate that his type of voice doesn’t really appear in contemporary music. “Halloween”, the only track written by guitarist Karl Precoda, clocks in at six and a half minutes. It’s a really eerie and haunting tune, and not only because of the guitar solos. The lyrics are some of the more unusual and sinister-feeling to come out of the Paisley Underground era.

Bassist Kendra Smith’s name may be familiar a one. She and guitarist David Roback (formerly of fantastic Rain Parade) would later form the band Opal after the Dream Syndicate’s demise. Smith would later be replaced in Opal by Hope Sandoval, and the band changed their name to Mazzy Star. Opal’s only studio album, Happy Nightmare Baby, is well-worth a listen. Smith’s voice is great. She sings the lead vocals on “Too Little, Too Late”.

When reading about the band, I always see the Velvet Underground influence being mentioned. The feedback and manic feeling might be behind the reasoning. Maybe it’s because everyone needs to mention it, but I really hate that comparison. It bores me to tears. While I’m sure it’s very flattering to be compared to Reed and co, the band remind me much more of Television and their intelligence and complexity or the way that Jonathan Richman sort of sing-tells his songs. Either way, this band was something really special. I suppose that’s why so many have gone back to reassess what they were.

This is one of those albums that I didn’t know if I would ever find used somewhere. I bought this baby brand new at the Exclusive Company in Milwaukee when it was re-issued in 2011. Turns out that the original pressings aren’t very difficult to come by. It’s a shame I didn’t put two minutes of research into this before purchasing, but as soon as I saw this album in the shop, I knew I had to have it.

The Exclusive in Milwaukee is a pretty nice little shop. I would always drag my unloved albums there to sell to buy an upgrade. Admittedly, there was a lot of shit in my collection, but thankfully I was willing to sell albums that were in high demand. The money I made off selling the unloved jokes allowed me to buy this. Not the most interesting of stories, but this is by no means the most interesting of records (music aside).

I’m always surprised that there aren’t more people obsessed with this band or this album. The Days of Wine and Roses fits in perfectly with the Paisley Underground while also succeeding in doing something entirely different. This is the magnum opus of The Dream Syndicate, but they have a body work work so worthy of the time and effort to listen to. If you haven’t listened to it yet, what the hell are you doing reading this? Get a move on.


Vinyl Friday #14: Robyn Hitchcock “I Often Dream of Trains”


First things first: this is one of the most biased bits of writing I have headed in to. Everything about this bloody album is probably everything I love about life. And this, of course, could only be music created by Britain’s special songwriting gems – Robyn Hithcock.  Often Dream of Trains was Hitchcock’s third album, released in 1984. While there is a mountain of admirable work, this one particularly remains one of his finest moments. I did go through a period where I listened to nothing else but this album on constant repeat. From front to back. From “Nocturne (Prelude)” to “Nocturne (Demise).”

It’s almost a lonely sounding album in many respects, but I suppose that is his allusion to trains and dreams.  This record also includes many of Hitchcock’s signature tracks like “Uncorrected Personality Traits” – an a cappella tune of gender norms and almost Freudian ideas.

When I did a little bit of reading, I came across the statement that this was an acoustic album. It took me a minute to understand that was actually true, but it hardly sounds like it. I usually find these sorts of albums to be utterly dull, but rarely do they fill the sound in this sort of way. Plus the P1010132book-ending of the “Nocturne”s is really a nice touch. I do love an instrumental leading into a song with a massive punch (and nothing really is more deserving than the ultra-strange “Sometimes I Wish I Was a Pretty Girl.”)

Without sounding too pretentious, this album remains one of the most mature albums I have heard. It is full of ideas, thoughts and sounds to grow into. Hitchcock always has unusual lyrics – he rarely sticks to traditional optics or tired lyrics. Each time I listen to this album, I always take something different away from it.

In many ways, it is like reading a great piece of literature: the meaning of the author is one thing, and important, but sometimes it is what the consumer takes from it too.

Hitchcock has long been a favourite, but he is so quintessentially British that it was always difficult to find any of his older albums in shops. Of course when I was in London for my undergraduate study abroad programme I bought everything of his I could find, but it was usually odd bits of things.P1010133

When I returned home to America after my studies, I was in a bit of a strange place. I was back in Wisconsin and felt entirely removed from myself when I wasn’t in England. But one day I went into a resale shop in my hometown for a quick look. It totally took me by surprise when I saw I Often Dream of Trains.

This is one of those “pieces” that are so worth owning on vinyl. The lyrics and Hitchcock’s own cartoon drawings are so interesting and special. Plus the cover work is just so intricate. All of these parts just create one really great whole.

Part of finding this album in Wisconsin makes it feel all the more special. On one hand finding it where it was produced would have been great, but I love knowing that someone else in my small hometown also had a connection with Robyn Hitchcock. Little bits like that make buying second-hand always feel that bit more personal.

I’d like to think whoever owned this copy before me got as much out of this album as I do. And when it is my turn to pass this on, I hope whoever receives it next knows that it has come from a line of people who really cherish the music etched in its grooves.