Natural Dreamers – S/T

It happened so quickly that you might not have noticed it, but in the quietest revolution ever, the avant-garde end of experimental rock has managed to slide nearly into the center lane of independent music. Sure, we always had Sonic Youth and Captain Beefheart as the primers for those who wanted to write songs with wildly elastic structures and few concessions to tonality, but most of those working on the more abstract end of the spectrum tended to retain a sort of marginalized notoriety of the sort typified by bands like the Residents, a group weird enough that everyone has heard of it but so puzzlingly esoteric that few aside from the obsessives have more than a passing knowledge of their its work. Now, however, with the likes of Erase Errata, Lightning Bolt, Black Dice, and Wolf Eyes garnering near unanimous underground (and even some mainstream) acclaim, noise is in and threatening to make any overt nods to melody seem as archaic as parlor music. And while they don’t make quite the hard turn toward abstraction that some of the aforementioned do, Natural Dreamers cast its lot with the sonic explorers with its debut release.
Admittedly, the potted plant and pure white backdrop of the cover seem to suggest the domestic tranquility of a reformed 60s sunshine-pop band more than a trio of free-form fanatics, making the actual contents somewhat startling in their meandering abrasiveness. There are some Deerhoof references to be made (as John Dieterich and Chris Cohen happen to share guitar duties in that band, as well) but that band’s trademark avant-bubblegum is here subverted in favor of the exclusion of almost all concessions to traditional structure except in the most fleeting of moments. More developed melodies do wander in and out at times, but most of the songs fall somewhere between post-rock instrumentals and impressionistic avant-garde tinkering. Maybe most unusual is the almost complete reliance on little more than the frantic interweaving of John Dieterich and Chris Cohen’s guitars over drummer Jay Pellicci’s turn-on-a-dime drumming. Where many bands go for aural saturation to overwhelm their listener, the aesthetic here is founded upon using structure to dazzle and confuse. And for the most part, it works.
“The Singer” screeches forward with Southern-rock guitar solos, only to abandon them for pulsing chords and downright pretty electric picking. “The Golden Pond” is nearly as picturesque as its title suggests, with guitar lines lazily rising and falling until collapsing into disorder. “Arthur” is a carnival ride/gypsy boogie that lurches forward and back before dissolving into a cloud of complex guitar patterns and sour scales. The spazz-core turned light jazz of “The Natural” is, in one song, the study in contrast that typifies the entire disc. Throughout, the mood is in constant flux, from frenzied to pensive, poignant to restless, often within the course of one track, leaving little rhyme or reason to the predict just where the next move will be.
Sure, it’s a cliché, but this is the type of music where the listener can genuinely find something new nearly every time the album’s chaotic clatter fills a room, as the complexities of the song structures don’t lend themselves to easy translation. There is liberating power in a stray guitar line and spastic drum roll, and such freedom is not only the modus operandi here, it’s the album’s true saving grace. It’s not always easy to follow, and that’s the most salient point. The listeners are asked to surrender their higher functions to the cacophonous void, ensuring that the music’s constituent elements are universal enough to appeal to a barely realized internal logic.
In all honestly, it’s hard to know what the most reasonable diagnostic criteria is to separate genius and confirming pure grating noise, as such standards are likely to change not only from listener to listener but even in the same listener depending on mood. What makes one bleating guitar more interesting or valid than another? What is the proper balance between innovation and simple artistic excess? Where does concept reasonably trump creation? Natural Dreamers don’t answer those questions, but their album is posited upon all of them. Listen, and you might come up with some answers.