Music Reviews
Death Dreams

PS I Love You Death Dreams

(Paper Bag) Rating - 9/10

Irrespective of the final outcome, the purported viewpoint of having the “will to dream” has long been the ultimate test of endurance. Of every feeling, it’s the most deceptive – the aim of giving purpose to one’s own existence, regardless of what that dream is, has been the product of so many life experiences: fruitful to the bright thinker with aspirations of commerce, corrosive to the tormented thinker who sees it unravel too clearly, and beneficial to the helpless thinker who’s been sold with false hope. Right at the beginning of 2012, off PS I Love You’s debut full length Meet Me At Muster Station, Paul Saulnier questions the finality of his very own: will we ever live to see our dreams. It’s hard to pin down whether it’s tied to the long-riddled Mayan prophecy, a relationship that’s about to fall apart, or, possibly, the crumbling of his own aspirations. Either way, Saulnier is the type who has a sense that dreams are certainly in the realm of ghosts, in which the machinations of his own subconscious could very well haunt his present.

Up to this point, PS I Love You has made joyous, high-spirited stompers that would duly appear in a “scream from the top of a mountaintop” playlist. Looking at it from a strictly superficial standpoint, this is music that’s suitable for backing a motivational pep rally, even if two musicians who would’ve preferred to grab a beer and hang out at the local patrol station make it. It sounds triumphant and meaningful, equipped to highlight every life-affirming moment. But Death Dreams has a much more dispiriting stance – through all that confidence lurks that feeling of fright and repentance, of letting the years run their course in an uneventful way. Their dreams are at stake, alarmingly reaching the point of hopelessness. So when the title track quavers an oxidized twang with calm placidity, one may suspect that these unassuming rock deities may have been spooked. Once Sentimental Dishes opens with a striking classic rock chord progression, you know they’re going to blaze one for kicks just like old times – Saulnier shreds one gallant riff after the next while drummer Benjamin Nelson punctuates every 16th and 32nd drum fill, sending it off with a smoldering finale that knocks one senseless.  Sure, Saulnier’s double-picking is considered as child’s play in the eyes of a pedantic metalhead, but how many of these can apply all this fretboard abuse in the concision of a three minute pop song.

The two-man band format has become a something of an indie rock commodity in the past decade, and PS I Love fits in the same category as current noise-rock bands No Age and Japandroids. Each adds their own variant to the never-aging punk sound – Japandroids are more about dumb, no-frills guitar crunch with a perpetual yearning to stop time before they hit twenty four, while No Age knot a series of streamlined, yet pounding power hooks and disaffected musings shrouded in dank washes of synth. PS I Love You are more like the wallflowers who saw all the cool kids have “fun” from a distance and didn't care, but kinda did at the same time – now older, Saulnier repeats throughout all I want is more than I ever had, a thought that begets passively living through many life trials in a complacent manner. With that comes a more substantial maturity, and the growth from Muster Station really shows – the final trifecta that closes it especially, which tones down the guitar dynamics just a notch and opts for the relaxed, effortless minor chords of J Mascis. Final Contact is especially accomplished, in which Saulnier stores the analog delay and the droning bass pedal in favor of clean guitar lines that steadily cruise along a closer that both seriously rocks and ends with a cheerful up-tempo riot.

Death Dreams emerges from a troubling anxiety that gradually makes Saulnier boil, impulsively letting it out with every nervous yelp and bellowing refrain; an indecipherable voice that mutes every passionate rant with rasping, yet nimble-fingered guitarwork and undulating bass thrum. And though most of the songwriting is elevated with sharp, complex turns, they still add some levity when things are about to become too tense. This is still very much a punk album, and two of the simplest songs are also two of the most thrilling – while Toronto rips a furious stream of dissonant riffs with an added hook coloring the fringes, Princess Towers marches along with a thick, cantankerous guitar line that’s stifled to the point of almost breaking apart, but it’s never shrill. It summons up the more boisterous moments in Trompe de Monde – fast and furious songs with a heavy veneer of aggression that appear to be characterless as to conceal any discernible melody.

Which is an adequate way of describing what PS I Love You go for - the pedal geek who storms out incensed licks with pop hooks to spare, accompanied by the faithful confidant who bruises every skin with a muscular dexterity, both working in complete tandem with each other. Death Deams almost faultlessly conveys the volatility and incomprehensibility of their particular genius. There isn’t even one clunker in here, which is a lot to say in a year that’s already seen another rock renaissance. If we’re actually torn to shreds in 2012, I couldn’t think of a more exhilarating soundtrack to go out with a bang.