Welsh alt-rock four-piece Dream State have been the band on everyone’s lips this year. After being named Kerrang! Magazine's 'Best British Newcomer' at their 2018 awards ceremony, there were high expectations for their debut album Primrose Path. And when you add in the ingredient of the personal tale that is told throughout the record - it only adds to the pressure.
Produced by Dan Weller, (Enter Shikari) Primrose Path strays away from Dream State's heavier post-hardcore roots, instead incorporating a smorgasbord of electronic synth. It's fair to say that having a name such as Weller on board caused the bar to be set even higher, and the enhanced production does tend to fall short of the standard you can find on his previous efforts. The simple yet effective move of fading consecutive atmospheric songs into one another is often missed, breaking the ambient cohesion.
Although, this is such a minute issue in the grand scheme of such a powerful electronic rock album that you'd be foolish to get overly hung up about it. Tracks such as opener ‘Made To Smile’, ‘Are You Ready To Live’ and ‘Primrose’ convey influences from the likes of Pvris, Twenty One Pilots and post-2013 Bring Me The Horizon, as pop melodies take centre front. This new sound has also allowed for vocalist CJ Gilpin to truly unleash the power of her clean vocals, especially apparent in the slow, alt-pop ballad ‘Twenty Letters’. In previous releases, Recovery (2018) and Consequences (2015), she was more prone to rough, undeveloped screams that have also improved in Primrose Path, implying her personal life isn’t the only thing she’s been working on.
Guitarist Rhys Wilcox also tries his hand at vocals. In third track ‘Hand In Hand’, though his small segment fails to deliver when compared to Gilpin’s powerful outbursts, but in later song ‘Chapters’, he takes the lead and shines. The slower, melancholic track allows him to work at a pace better suited to his range, which even hits Sam Smith-like falsetto notes perfectly.
Primrose Path's obsession with spoken-word segments, which feature in every song is a misstep though. While there's certainly an audience for the ASMR-like breathy whispering in ‘Twenty Letters’ or the common yet still unexpected halts in anthemic melodies to make room for one-word interjections, it does result in a jarring effect at times. Whatever your opinion of the style, we can all agree that shoe-horning it into every song is not an effective choice and, rather than enhancing their heartfelt, poignant lyrics, it often silences the power of the instrumental sections.
While Primrose Path may have its disputable issues, it is still a very strong release that conveys how much Dream State have grown, not only personally but musically too. For the most part, their use of alt-pop production has been executed so well, you’d not believe this wasn’t their original sound. It feels like this is only the start of something great.