In most period films, there’s five minutes – usually in the opening credits – where the film beats you over the head that it’s set in a certain time. A girl in a scrunchy, leg warmers, and an off the shoulder top kisses a picture of Corey Hart in her locker while Cyndi Lauper plays in the background. A boy in flannel talks to another boy with a beanie and a skateboard as “Come As You Are” plays in the background. The hippie commune braids each other’s hair and tokes up to the dulcet tunes of “Aquarius” from Hair. In short, there’s a blend of distinct elements from a time period that come together to overwhelmingly tell the audience “this movie is set in this certain time period.”
To this list, you can add Dreamcar, the debut album by the band of the same name (both stylized as DREAMCAR). The album simultaneously calls back to dozens of distinct 1980s bands for a final product that’s generally a vaguely 1980s sounding mish-mash. (To Dreamcar’s credit, they acknowledge the 1980s sound.) The biggest influence the band seems to be drawing from are groups such as Depeche Mode or New Order, but hints of groups as varied as Duran Duran, Pet Shop Boys, and Joy Division can be spotted in the structure of the album. Songs occasionally become a patchwork quilt of 1980s influences: “On the Charts” has an incredibly awkward spoken word section that, with the lyrics, call to mind “West End Girls.” At the same time, that song’s musical stylings are pure Depeche Mode. It creates a final product that’s a bit off-putting…and yet, I really liked it. It works.
Of course, I’m biased and personally always predisposed to 1980s new wave nonsense. And, to Dreamcar’s credit, the album is entirely well-produced 1980s new wave nonsense. There aren’t any songs that I loathed but, on the other hand, there were very few songs that stood out. The album on a whole is well-produced: there’s not a misstep in the glittery synths or pulsing guitars, and everything just sounds amazing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound distinct. Dreamcar is amazing for background music and listening to the album as a whole, but a bit less amazing for picking out singles or distinct songs.
One of those songs that stood out is the lead single, “Kill for Candy.” It’s the first of two songs on the album that deals with a candy motif–and neither of them sound like you would expect a song about candy to sound like. “Kill for Candy” is amazing melodrama, shooting for New Order and ending up somewhere near the Killers. We’ve all heard this before, but it’s still EXPERTLY done. That drop out around 2:20 is downright predictable but still downright amazing. The bass expertly pushes the song forward over the flitting guitars and Davey Havok’s perfectly alt-rock vocals.
Curiously, the supergroup only vaguely sounds like it’s members. Dreamcar consists of No Doubt members Tony Kanal, Tom Dumont, and Adrian Young, with AFI leader Davey Havok on vocals. Oddly, the album doesn’t sound a thing like No Doubt. There’s no trace of the ska-punk sound that brought the band to worldwide attention. AFI fares much better: songs like “After I Confessed” sound more like mid 2000s mall goth soundtrack that AFI made famous, just run through a layer of 1980s styles and instrumentations. This makes Dreamcar beautifully nostalgic on two levels, a gutsy move that they thankfully execute perfectly.
For an album with very few individual highlights, Dreamcar is an amazing final product. It’s a well-written and well-produced album, calling back to at least five different 1980s bands as well as one 2000s band. The end result is seamless and wonderfully crafted, a beautiful tribute to this decade and these artists.