'Moral Panics' Review: Peel Dream Syndicate offers an uplifting mix of post-punk, shoegaze and dream-pop textures
'Moral Panics' can be thought of as a companion piece to the band's previous album, 'Agitprop Alterna', featuring unreleased songs from those same recording sessions
While some of us have forgotten what being productive feels like due to the ongoing coronavirus lockdown, the Brooklyn-based band Peel Dream Magazine hasn’t let the current times dampen their creative high. Following on the heels of their second full-length album, ‘Agitprop Alterna’ that released just three months ago, the band has released their latest EP, ‘Moral Panics,’ on Bandcamp Day (July 3), in conjunction with Bandcamp waiving their revenue shares for a 24-hour period for a third consecutive month. Much like their previous release, the new six-track EP is a short yet diverse melange of post-punk, shoegaze, dream-pop sounds and sonic impressionism. While their last offering was infused with Brechtian ideals, ‘Moral Panics’ has a mostly lighter, more uplifting mood.
'Moral Panics' can be thought of as a companion piece to 'Agitprop Alterna', featuring unreleased songs from those recording sessions. Far from being B-sides and outtakes, this a collection of songs that can be considered a standalone corollary piece on its own, much like how Radiohead's 'Kid A' recording sessions later gave us the album 'Amnesiac'.
The 'Moral Panics' EP title comes from Stanley Cohen's 'Folk Devils and Moral Panics', a landmark study on the media controversy surrounding the Mods and Rockers movement in the UK, and the political, societal and cultural effects that followed in the aftermath of this media frenzy. As with 'Agitprop Alterna', Peel Dream Magazine is quite comfortable with blending vintage lo-fi sounds with highbrow artistic concepts and continues to explore the rarefied field where art, culture, and commerce meet, with a surprising lightness of touch for such heavy subject matter.
‘New Culture’ is the EP’s first track, with the band giving us a quick drone-rock number replete with an overwhelmingly warm guitar fuzz. It harkens back to a pre-fame Nirvana sound that Joe Stevens, the band's lead singer cites as an early influence. And if you're a fan of Hum, the seminal band that influenced the Deftones, this becomes a must-listen.
Returning to another major influence on Stevens, ‘Verfremdungseffekt’ is an aural meditation on one of the playwrights Bertold Brecht’s writing techniques. To the uninitiated, Brecht created a form of writing where audiences are put in a state of mind where they critique and analyze the very nature of the narrative being presented. While you might be reaching for your monocle at this point, it's in fact a bouncy, quirky song that would feel right at home in a Wes Anderson work. The track is also steeped in Velvet Underground vibes, with a warm, feel-good spring in its step.
The next track ‘Dialectrics', which seems to be a play on the physics term "dielectric" (meaning insulator) and L. Ron Hubbard's 'Dianetics' is a bright and happy dream-pop number created by sparkling guitars. Adding to the spacey and floating effect on this song, the understated vocals and synths also harmonize to create a gorgeous soundscape.
Church-organ synths swell throughout ‘Life At The Movies’, a gentle, contemplative track that brings to mind the slow, smooth grooves of the Velvet Underground or even Slowdive's trademark grace. As the name suggests, it's highly cinematic in nature, with the whispered vocals reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine's 'Only Shallow', sans the mountains of overdriven guitar layers. If you liked 'Oh!' by the Breeders, you'll definitely take to this track instantly.
Peel Dream Magazine then invites you to close your eyes and escape with the lush, ethereal sounds of ‘The Furthest Nearby Place’, an uber-dreamy instrumental jam that invokes the most tranquil and exotic tropical dream-state. With bongo-like percussions, shimmering guitars, and synths that lap at your senses like tender waves, this song is a red carpet invitation to daydream nation. Lasting exactly four minutes and 20 seconds, this instrumental might be the perfect setting for your next 4:20 session, and it's definitely the stand-out track on this EP.
The 'Moral Panics' EP concludes with a demo for an unpolished gem called 'Clean Water'. Currently presented in a raw and unplugged state, it is shaping up to be another track that Peel Dream Magazine can add to their list of lush greats, with some strong Jim Morrison vibes evident on this short and sweet track.
At under 20 minutes, this may be a tad too short for longtime admirers of the dreamy New York-based band. But as with most EPs, many of these songs may go on to complement or even inform their other unreleased tracks from a future album. In short, for fans of Peel Dream Magazine’s dreamy, quirky and cerebral music, this is a small but nourishing treat to the senses and a welcome gift for fans of soothing lo-fi textures.