Dream Machine - The Illusion

by Bill Golembeski Rating:9 Release Date:2017-05-19

Oh my! I’m experiencing Vertigo! No, it’s not an inner ear disturbance. Rather, Dream Machine’s The Illusion is a very good recreation of these wonderful Vertigo swirls, those records from 1969 through 1973 that fused post-psych, prog, rock, and folk into the hip sound of the day and now are the holy grail of Anglophile audiophiles everywhere.

These people know exactly what they are doing!

Apparently, the pop group Warm Soda fizzled (as warm soda tends to do), and from the ashes rose Matthew Melton’s new band Dream Machine, now including his wife Doris on keyboards and vocals, Spencer on bass, and Dillion Fernandez on drums. And, if the listener’s preference is for that long lost British sound of Gracious, Cressida, Uriah Heep (all actually on Vertigo), or The Moody Blues, and early Deep Purple; this album will tickle the desire for music that is, to quote Led Zeppelin, “over the hills and far away.”

This record is like the god Janus who glances backward at the embers of late psych, and because he’s Janus, he is also gets to have a clear vision of the approaching realm of progressive rock. And it’s just sonic candy for those of us who still cling to the memory of a time when lunch was reduced to a bag of chips (crisps in more civilized places of the world) so as to have enough money to buy a new release by a favorite band, or possibly an album by a new group that just looked really cool. Music was life, and life was exciting because, well, music was exciting. If you weren’t there, it’s hard to understand. And by the way, thanks to the record label also called Janus that had a stateside release for an album by a band called Titus Groan, an record for which I searched for six years (and ate a lot of potato chips) until I found a cut out copy in a record store in Montreal. Yes, those were the days.

Fair warning: I think this is a really great record. But if you are looking for long multi-part suites of progressive rock, this isn’t for you. The songs are all quite short. Nothing is over five minutes. The whole album clocks in at just over thirty-four minutes. Ah, but Doris’ keyboard playing is incredible, and it has as much to do with Ray Manzarek as it does with Ken Hensley, John Lord, or Keith Emerson. And Dream Machine has at least one or two references to an Iron Butterfly in its chrysalis. But, holy cow, Doris’ synthesizer (which was once called the “Moog”) creates fantastic sonic colors the likes of which I haven’t heard since ELP’s “Lucky Man” or Uriah Heep’s “July Morning,” played not by KH but by Manfred Mann. No need to worry: Hensley’s Hammond B3 work speaks for itself.

“The Illusion” opens the album with a heavy sound with Matthew Melton on vocals. There’s no big bellicose metal sound. The mix is just great late 60’s and early 70’s rock: one part guitar, one part heavy bass and drums, one part organ (with an almost classical allusion), and of course, one part stomach growl because you only ate a bag of chips in order to save enough money to buy the album. Yes, indeed, those were the days!

You know, I could go on and on about this album. All the songs just rock. I know. I was there in 1970. This is the stuff I loved. “Eye for an Eye” follows. It’s interesting that Doris takes the lead vocal. It’s also interesting to hear the telepathy between their keyboard and guitar interplay. The same is true for “I Walked In the Fire.” The playing is so tight that the actual songs take a backseat. But “Fire,” after repeated plays, reveals a melody that wouldn’t be out of place on a The Men They Couldn’t Hang rogue folk album. And Paul Simmonds is one heck of a great writer. Mr. Radue (aka Jazz Guy) heard a distant cousin of The Monkees’ “Valerie” in the chorus of “Buried Alive.” Apparently, The Jazz Guy, for all his knowledge of Bebop and beyond, must have a few pop music skeletons in his closet.

Oh, that’s all right. I have deep place in my heart for those pop-meisters The Grass Roots. But truly, after the intense déjà vu instrumentation of this album has been consumed, the melodies present themselves. And they are worth the wait. “Torn from the Hands of Another” sounds like early Uriah Heep. “All for a Chance” is almost 60’s pop with a heavy organ and blistering guitar solo. The same goes for “Lose My Place in Time,” and “Caught in a Trap” starts with a bit of drama, like Cream’s “White Room,” and then ventures into space. “Nothing Left” and “Back to You” are a perfect examples of the band’s sound: a swirling organ hovers over an intense guitar with melodic vocals buried somewhat in the mix. And that Moog work is sublime. The very last song, “Weeping Statue,” ends the record with the same burning bush intensity as the opening cut.

Speaking of burning bush intensity, I played the record for my friend, Kilda Defunt, who listened intently, rambled about several great bands, and then just said, “This album is like listening to the cynical murmurings of Moses as he’s watching The Ten Commandments getting etched into stone tablets.” She paused and quoted her own Sacred Maxim XIII: “You know. Rock music is never about stuff etched into stone tablets.”

Of course, she’s right. Progressive rock has taken its knocks, what with expensive Persian rugs, keyboards in cathedrals, airy-fairy artwork, and the concept of infinity used as an actual time signature in a song, renamed, of course, by the artists as “a composition.”  Dream Machine avoids all of that, thankfully, with an album that’s just filled with expansive, exciting, and good old heavy music.

 

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