Dreams Less Sweet

“Dream Less Sweet” is a journey. It stands out in Psychic TV’s discography; it has few lyrical songs and seems to be more concerned with building an atmosphere than getting the listener to tap their toes. Released in 1983 “Dreams Less Sweet” is the band’s second studio album. It keeps some of the exotic instrumentation of their first work; “Force the Hand of Chance” but approaches the idea of an album with a unique formula.
“Force the Hand of Chance” was a song album. Most of its ten tracks follow a recognizable song structure, containing lyrics, enjoyable melodies and even the occasional verse/chorus/verse structure. “Dreams Less Sweet” is more like a series of vignettes, sound sketches designed to set a mood or transport the listener to a place. The album was recorded using Zuccarelli Holophonics, a recording method designed to give sound dimension, immersing the listener in an environment by giving the effect of hearing the sound in person. The use of this technology on the album goes a long way towards making it an experience and not simply a piece of music. This also makes it an excellent album to listen to on headphones, which provide the full effect of the Zuccarelli Holophonics.
The cover-art of Dreams Less Sweet is striking. We are presented with a close up of an orchid with its stamen pierced similarly to a clitoral piercing. This image conjures notions of dark dreams and sexual fantasies, setting the mood for the music on the album. The back of the album has small shot of Psychic TV sitting on a rocky coastline in classic 80s band repose and a surprisingly lengthy track-list. Placed almost subliminally behind all of that is a washed-out picture of a wolf (dog?) peering at us from behind a chain-link fence.
The names of the tracks also tell us something about the content of the album. With titles like “The Orchids,” “Botanica” and “Eden” along with the cover art, the album continues its sense of greenery. There is a track named “Eleusis” which is the town where the Eleusinian Mysteries took place once a year. These were secret initiation rites for the Cult of Demeter that was supposed to bestow those initiated with power and rewards in the afterlife. “Medmenham” is named after the town where The Hellfire Club, a secret society that allowed the rich and powerful of England to partake in immoral acts, originated. According to the liner notes, some of the tracks were recorded in part in the Hellfire Club caves.
The liner notes are filled with a fascinating plethora of information. Besides citing a dizzying number of instruments, various collaborators (including special handlers for attack dogs and Uzis), it makes the bizarre claim that “No microphones at all were used in the recording of this LP.” How it is possible to record an album without microphones is not illuminated by the rest of the liner notes. There is however an astonishing array of instruments, ranging from a Tibetan singing bell to a regular old bass guitar.
The album opens with a short track called “Hymn 23.” We hear a car pulls up and a short heavenly sounding chorus of instruments, most noticeably an organ. One is left with the feeling of a church on Sunday morning, something bright and delicate. This soft and fuzzy feeling is continued on “The Orchids” which may be the most straightforward track on the album. Soft oboe and vibes float along as Genesis P-Orridge sings about how “in the morning, after the night, I fall in love with the light” in alternating headphone channels. The next track opens with a sudden crash on a drum followed by discordant bells and a droning synthesizer. Then Monte Cazazza reads a poem and hits a tuning fork very close to our ear. The floating and gentle dreams of the first tracks are indeed beginning to sour.
“Always is Always” is a gentle solo vocal that floats around the channels and finally gives way to echoing drips. On “White Nights” Genesis cuts in once more with a seemingly gentle song with 50s style vocal harmonies and a tambourine keeping beat. “Santa Claus is checking his list, going over is twice, seeing who is naughty and who is nice,” sings Genesis. When he begins intoning about “the sins of men” and “stepping over” we realize we have been fooled, this is no happy 50s grove. The distant crackle of an Uzi gives it away. This is our final ray of light for the evening; we are descending into Psychic TV’s land of dreamscapes now. The next tracks are a cloud of vicious sounding dogs, snapping flames, crackling Uzis, buzzing flies and chanting. Of course these tracks do have appropriate instrumentation; military trumpet, snare drums and unsettling chimes fade in and out of the mix.
We are never fully sucked down into the abyss however. For every growling attack dog there is a gentle piano harmony. For every empty cave-like echoing there is a throbbing bass line. We are held in a space between light and shadow; we are in a twilight dream world. But, much like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, we must eventually hit bottom. This comes in the form of the track “In the Nursery”, the albums second to last track and its’ obvious climax. Clocking in at just over five minutes “In the Nursery” is a vortex of sound. Genesis espouses the rules and realties of this mysterious nursery while a strange centrifugal whirling provides an increasingly anxious backing track. Thrown in are the sounds of car horns, bangs and clacks which serve to further confuse the already chaotic noise. And after a sudden silence we are treated to a flute solo, which ends the album.
“Dreams Less Sweet” is an album like no other. As you journey through its 43 minutes it floats between lyrical songs and outright sound experiments. As a whole it maintains a sense of the otherworldly. It sounds like a dream of obscure darkness, as if you are drifting in and out and never really getting the whole picture, just a foggy notion of a story. The album has a disjointed sense of narrative, capturing the feeling of having troubling dreams and burning it onto 19 tracks that you can replay anytime you want.
If you are looking for a unique listening experience then this is the album for you. Put on your headphones, turn out the lights and let “Dreams Less Sweet” guide you away from reality.


~ by thetoxozombie on 2010/03/02.

One Response to “Dreams Less Sweet”

  1. Sweet. This reminded me of this artist – http://www.seattleartmuseum.org/emuseum/code/emuseum.asp?collection=5618&collectionname=WEB:CloseUps&style=browse&currentrecord=1&page=collection&profile=objects&searchdesc=WEB:CloseUps&newvalues=1&newstyle=single&newcurrentrecord=4

    Inopportune: Stage One by Cai Guo Xiang. He also does 100% of his paintings using only gun powder. Maybe you would enjoy it, a contrast piece in art reflected in whats happening in music.

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