The “catchy but complex” paradox is an ever present problem in prog and prog-adjacent music. Can you write music that is complicated without overdoing it and putting off the average listener? Can you explore complex themes without coming across as preachy or ham-fisted? Exploring this tension is exactly what makes Dream The Electric Sleep so good. They somehow manage to write thematically and musically complex and dense music, but they also are able to pack it into anthemic rock with singable choruses and catchy melodies. And while I’d never knock a band for doing a really far- out concept (see: The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway or Tarkus), Dream The Electric Sleep has tended to gravitate towards more grounded themes, with songs exploring topics like feminism, the environment, and mental health.
Their latest album, American Mystic, doesn’t have a specific concept or consistent storyline, per se, but the through line seems to be an intentional channeling of universal, modern, existential themes, and viewing modern life through a musical lens. The press release stated that the album was particularly challenging to make, as the COVID-19 pandemic set in early on in their writing and recording. The pandemic slowed down progress for must musicians, and this band was not exempt from those setbacks, but at the same time, the deliberation allowed for this collection of songs to be continuously developed and refined. The tightness of the album might also have something to do with the help of acclaimed producer Michael Beinhorn (Herbie Hancock, Soundgarden, Hole, and so many others). The band enlisted him to help develop their sound further, and they described the process of working with Beinhorn as “grueling but fantastic”, as he pushed the band to develop their sound and style.
Following a harmony laden intro (called “And The Buried Rise”, “Beyond Repair” kicks off the album with big chords and harmonies. Odd times in the verses even out for a highly singable and catchy chorus. This song is the perfect representation of that palatable, radio-worthy pop that Dream The Electric Sleep is so good at creating, and the lyrics tap so well into that aforementioned modern malaise that seems to be ever present.
“Forged in the Furnace” similarly has an epic feel, and at this point, it becomes abundantly clear that this album leans into vocal harmonies- big, stacked Devin Townsend-style vocal chords, as well as huge, epic guitar chords- further evidenced by the intro to “After The Fallout”.
“The Lessons They Bring” is the epic track of the album, clocking at 9 minutes. It’s a more more somber and reflective piece that explores, with an absolutely blistering ending. Title track “American Mystic” is a gradual crescendo, ending with washes of atmosphere and energy. “Steal the Love” is a really well crafted pop-rock song that is beautifully energetic. “Love Letters”, is more upbeat, with a driving energy and gorgeous CSNY-like harmonies. And finally, the album closer, “Lay Down The Cross”, begins with a blistering intro (in which drummer Joey Waters goes absolutely nuts), but progresses into a massive finale, which would also be a fitting end to a live concert, with big solos and choruses and a feeling of musical catharsis.
I knew I would really enjoy this album, because I am already a big fan of this group’s prior releases. But I truly feel like American Mystic builds upon the strength of the previous albums with tight tracks that showcase the diversity and skill of the band, without dragging or meandering. The economy and polish of these tracks means the album leaves you wanting more, which is a fantastic problem for a band to face. Like previous releases, Dream The Electric Sleep manages to craft hooks and lean into pop sensibilities without completely eschewing their progressive tendencies. I highly recommend this album for fans of brilliant, thoughtful rock music with progressive leanings.
Dream The Electric Sleep’s latest album, American Mystic, will be out on July 14, 2023.