I put a lot of stock in the first listen of an album. Even though forming an opinion takes a few journeys, a good first listen can make an album transcend itself. I listened to Beneath the Dark Wide Sky on one of those fall days in Boston when everything is moving inevitably towards the quite darkness of winter, and the skyscrapers stand like monoliths under a steel gray sky. I moved under the weight of it all, insignificant and overwhelmed.
It was a good first listen.
This album is like a best-of compilation of some of my favorite genres growing up, with elements of ‘90s grunge, symphonic post-rock songwriting; and the compositional prowess of progressive rock. Imagine Soundgarden and Explosions in the Sky interpreting Pink Floyd. It’s a gleefully nostalgic combination.
More than that, the album’s enormous sound is entirely in service of its inspiration: The works of Dorothea Lange, and by extension, the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. There are layers upon layers of guitar, drum and bass, all moving at a deliberate pace. The effect is panoramic: I can almost see clouds of power chords and bass, tremolo picked rain drops, drum like thunder, and lightening flash guitar solos in the night of the song’s storm. In the midst, the vocals of Matt Page, who sounds like Chris Cornell, pierces through.
Adding to the chaos of sound is sense of the unexpected. There are a number of moments where I expected a zig, and I got a zag; or a breakdown instead of a guitar solo. These stray movements are disorienting, but used judiciously enough that you never get lost in them. That is the real strength of this record: control.
Dream the Electric Sheep knows the effect of tilting the wheel slightly into the unknown only to pull you back with a large scale chorus or guitar solo.
These are guys who know exactly where they are taking you: on the road with Tom Joad to find salvation from the desolation of the Dust Bowl. Dream the Electric Sheep knows the effect of tilting the wheel slightly into the unknown only to pull you back with a large scale chorus or guitar solo. This is made evident by the general progression of the album, which moves from track to track with balanced linearity. There is even an all-hope-is-lost moment on the penultimate track, “Black Wind,” which finds resolution in the albums final track “All Good Things.”
The record isn’t perfect, though. For all of its merits, it does run a little too long. What’s more, the compositions’ pacing can, at times, feel a bit too slow. And, the lyrics are generally average at best.
These complaints however, are minor, and, if you like cerebral, visceral, post-rock influenced prog, sit back, and let the cloud descend on you.
Until I manage past my own indifference,
8,980 out of 10,000 Rawckus Kung Fu Throwing Stars