A second collapse in pleasant anonymity
When browsing through a band’s list of influences, a few artists tend to stand out as red flags. It was hard not to wince preemptively when noticing The Grateful Dead on Certainly So’s list of influences, as most musical deadheads eliminate any interesting psychedelic texture in favor of the blandest “jam” music that doesn’t. doesn’t make as much jam as lethargic shrug. What is sad is the beginnings of this duo, Future dreams of self only, did not fall into this trap. Yet the sequel ditches the compelling rhythm section and intoxicating slinky energy in favor of mediocre indie-folk vibes that manage to outlast its short run.
Future dreams of self only and dreams of green emerged from the same headspace – they’re both mood-laden indie-folk with plenty of harmonies. However, Future dreams of self only includes a surprising rhythm section, from the chaotic beats of “The Way You Say No” to the bluesy swagger of “Dizzy,” setting the stage for fun melodic music. The guitar’s worming hooks helped intimate songs, like the fragile acoustics and vocals echoing in space on “Cherry Tree” or the mournful pianos on “Even If You Do,” stand out. The opposite is true on dreams of greenwhere there is no such contrast to be found.
Between the first and second album, Certainly So’s instrumentation and overall sonic palette declined significantly. There’s no piano or strings until the approach, the rhythm section fails to hit the lead, and every attempt at diversity feels like a pale imitation of what’s come before. The roaring distortion of “Holy Roller” also compares unfavorably to the eerie vocal chorus and hook and bass line of “Dizzy.” Horns are the only major new addition to “Daydreams” and “Song and Dance”, which sound great on the latter but poorly handled on the former. The guitars and pedal steel do their job without committing too much to the melody.
Singing is one area where the band has failed to come back. It’s like Certainly So heard the praise for the debut album and decided to overload the vocal tracks with too many harmonies and effects. “Jackie and Andy,” the opener, is a nice quieter cut. Still, the vocoder vocals in the last stage are distracting, and the backing vocals sound like they were recorded in a different studio beforehand. “Far From Home” has a similar effect to “Cherry Tree” which clogs it up with a rather shrill compression on all vocal tracks. Almost all of “Song and Dance” features the two men singing, which might have been novel if it hadn’t seemed like this technique smothered the entire album. Again, the problem is not the musical idea itself, but how it is the only musical idea that fuels the monotony.
Two of the tracks on dreams of green are interludes delivered in the style of FM radio broadcasts. Usually that would be irritating and a waste of time on an album under 30 minutes. However, the second of them, “Desert Vampires”, offers the most interesting instrumental of the disc. The band rediscovers a low, rhythmic bassline and adds some inflected whammy-bar guitar and undulating pedal steel for a classic psychedelic soundscape. It’s not far removed from the predecessor’s “Under the Rug” or “Wonderful Time”, but at least it causes some spike in the flat mood of the album.
Vibrations are good, and being nice is good, but Future dreams of self only also aimed for friendly vibes, but had fun hooks and cared about diversity. There’s not enough passion or life to fill the 30 minutes of Dreams of green. This is another long line of banality inflicted by musical Deadheads, made even more underwhelming here with how the debut bucked that trend.