With few exceptions, the bands that rose from L.A.'s Paisley Underground scene in the '80s had only one real thing in common -- all of them were obsessed with the rock & roll touchstones of the mid- to late '60s, whether it was psychedelia (the Rain Parade), country rock (the Long Ryders), or AM pop (the Bangles).
But while most of these bands looked to the sunny side of '60s rock, the Dream Syndicate were the Paisley Underground's juvenile delinquents, smart but cynical and happy to spread bad vibes for the hell of it.
Nearly all of the Paisley bands were audibly Californian, but while they hailed from Davis, California, the Dream Syndicate's key influences were significantly from the East Coast: the Velvet Underground (particularly White Light/White Heat), and mid-'60s Bob Dylan (think Highway 61 Revisited).
At the core of their sound was the bracing thrust and parry between Karl Precoda's lead guitar, noisy and elemental but inspired in its wanderlust, and the sharp report of Steve Wynn's rhythm guitar, yielding a tougher and more abrasive sound than their peers.
Consequently, the Dream Syndicate's debut album, 1982's The Days of Wine and Roses, is arguably the finest LP to come out of the Paisley Underground's salad days, and ultimately atypical of the movement, a blast of beautiful but ominous rock & roll chaos whose speedy guitar-based attack was held in place by the intelligent minimalism of bassist Kendra Smith and drummer Dennis Duck.
While the Dream Syndicate's influences were obvious (the initial vinyl pressing of The Days of Wine and Roses included the helpful run-off groove message "Pre-Motorcyle Accident"), the way they manifested themselves were not; the skronky impact of the guitars recalled the Velvets, but Precoda's billows of noise had a personality all their own, and though Wynn's vocal delivery had the bite of both vintage Dylan and Lou Reed, his lyrical voice was his own, offhand but deeply personal at the same time.
And Chris D.'s no-frills production captured the Dream Syndicate gloriously, and the greatest pleasure of The Days of Wine and Roses is how well this band plays together, like a miraculously contained explosion that seemed to be going a dozen places at once but confidently and fearlessly rolls forward, and the expressive jams on "Then She Remembers," "Until Lately," and the title cut are outstanding.
The Dream Syndicate would be a very different band when they cut Medicine Show two years later, but while they would remain an interesting band to the end, The Days of Wine and Roses captures them at their peak, and it's essential listening for noise guitar fiends and anyone interested in '80s alternative rock.