After making waves with two previous EPs, 2018’s Recovery and 2015’s Consequences, Dream State have released their debut album, Primrose Path. The post-hardcore band takes cues from all across the rock spectrum on this release, and from alternative, pop and electronic music as well.
The effect is dramatic, layered, atmospheric songs that fill whatever room they’re played in. The synths throughout the album give it a dream-like quality. “Primrose” is perhaps the band’s best use of electronic elements, starting with cut vocals and culminating in a synth-driven chorus. Closing track “I Feel It Too” subverts pop rhythms and structure to create a menacing melody, which explodes in the chorus as the song shifts to a distinctly rock sound.
Dream State are masters of melody. The band is clearly expert at crafting catchy hooks, gripping pre-choruses, booming choruses and exciting bridges. The pre-chorus in “I Feel It Too” is brilliantly thrilling while “Hand in Hand” boasts a larger-than-life chorus. “Out of the Blue” features a theatric bridge and “Twenty Letters” has a sweet and soaring hook.
But Dream State’s real genius is their ability to blend soft and hard, whether it’s a quick switch from screamed vocals to quiet clean vocals or airy synths played over a heavy guitar riff. Album opener “Made Up Smile” is a masterpiece that conveys the band’s ability to mix and match tones. It starts off soft and whispery, with quiet steady synths and guitar that builds alongside echoing drums. Then everything goes quiet for a beat, before the instruments come back in all at once, in a climactic moment.
A big part of this sensibility is vocalist C.J. Gilpin’s ability to sing in so many tones with such conviction and power. Her voice has a captivating texture that gives it a lot of depth and fullness whether she’s screaming aggressively or singing gently. Rhys Wilcox, who provides backing vocals throughout the album and lead vocals on the album’s slower track “Chapters”, gives a haunting and chilling performance, with pristine and emotive vocals.
The instruments complement the vocals and match their versatility. Dream State demonstrate technical skill that goes above and beyond the demands of post-hardcore with astounding speeds. Wilcox and Evans give rock-solid performances on guitar while bassist Danny Rayer supports them with a strong performance on bass. Jamie Lee excels on the drums, almost stealing the show from the rest of the band at points on the album.
Gilpin is known for her openness and honesty in her lyrics. The lyrics on Primrose Path are raw, direct and genuine. She tends to focus on metaphor and figurative imagery in her lyrics, which is also in line with the band’s name.
The album falters when it relies too heavily on its soft-hard-electronic combination. There could be more variation and experimentation on the album, as the songs don’t stray too far from the same level of energy and emotion. All of the songs demonstrate the same juxtapositioning and layering of contrasting tones that the band have really perfected in this release. The other weak moments are when Gilpin talks instead of singing, which takes listeners out of the music and away from the otherwise compelling melodies.
With Primrose Path, Dream State have been able to incorporate electronic elements into post-hardcore music that doesn’t always conform to the traditional post-hardcore formula. While previous EPs fit well into the existing landscape of post-hardcore, here Dream State have developed a style that is their entirely their own. This is post-hardcore without limits.