Dream State are a breath of fresh air for heavy music. They’re hectic enough to set off a pit – as seen at Unify 2019 – but there’s far more than just that that intrigues and connects. From the yin and yang of their album cover to the gentle hand-hold of compassion with their lyrics, Dream State offer themselves with a vulnerability that acts as an empowerment too.
From Recovery, Dream State (or more specifically vocalist/lyricist CJ Gilpin) opened up in sharing the treacherous journey of healing from addiction. And if this was merely an edgy concept release, it would have been done and dusted and tied off with a neat bow. But in a truly authentic way, Dream State have continued this journey in Primrose Path, reinforcing the very real ‘two steps forward, one step back’ nature of facing and overcoming the demons of addiction or mental health.
In an interview with Kerrang, CJ described Primrose Path as reflecting “someone who’s in the pursuit of pleasure, even though they know it’s gonna bring disastrous results”. This pursuit of pleasure, in reaching for the comforting cocoon of intoxication instead of standing to face the storms of life, is clearly something very real to CJ. Her art with Dream State is not any form of preaching from an untouchable pulpit, but is instead down in the trenches and capturing the experience. I think this is why I have so much affection for Dream State and their music to date; appreciating the power that a “things are shit but there’s always hope somewhere” sentiment can offer to those who are deep in a hole of addiction themselves. Though I can’t speak for the band, the simple lyric “I feel it too” aptly sums up the Dream State ethos for me.
So, clearly digging the band and digging what they’re about, I hoped that I would also dig Primrose Path. With this review, you’re virtually coming along with me ‘live’ as I dive into this album, ready to hear what CJ, Aled Evans (guitar), Rhys Wilcox (guitar/vocals), and Jamie Lee (drums) have to share.
“Made Up Smile” is where Primrose Path starts and its shivery tones and progressively quickening clock ticking easily strike an unsettling chord of anxiety in me. Swirling lightness around my ears and darker riffs have me curious. CJ’s measured sharing as the track opens culminates in “I really hope it’s worth it / Welcome to the circus”. We’re then off and away in a radiant melody for awhile before facing the density of entangled experience.
Dream State seem to be using the metaphor of a circus for the way we can pretend we’re okay when we’re not, as well as the way these facades hide true personalities. I picture smiles painted on clowns, the entertaining fakery of well-prepared tricks revealed under a big top, and also the missed human-to-human connections as we swing right by each other like trapeze artists in the air. It’s as much self-reflection about purpose and choices in self-expression as it is an observation on the world at large.
My favourite feature of “Made Up Smile” is how Dream State have me so closely affixed to the mood about this state of affairs: I’m with them whether it’s a sigh of sorrow or feeling their raging sonic fires that are fighting for change. This flow makes for a thread that weaves through the thinking-out-loud lyricism with ease. It therefore feels completely natural for the stomping pace of the second verse to expand into an anthemic chorus, before contracting into a contemplative and serene moment of consideration, which then flares into extremes of frustration. There’s many angles and emotions to an issue, and Dream State seem to be able to sonically capture them all.
“Where’s the integrity? Where’s the love?”
Moving onward, the contemplative and gentle (at first) “Are You Ready To Live” soon grows teeth and strength with a compassionate voice. A more fireful energy urges for each of us to carry on regardless, before gently enquiring what is going to be done with “all that pain”. The lyrical use of ‘we’ in these questions and explorations, as well as understanding of things being easier said than done, make this track so beautifully non-judgemental. The acknowledgements of struggle as well as confessions of feeling the same are as kind as if spoken directly to a friend.
I see “Are You Ready To Live” as an anthem to persist through pain and to face life and make it something greater. Its urgings and encouragements are infectious, something sonically crafted to pull someone from the floor and into the driver’s seat of their existence. The track features a driving pace but also spaces for contemplation. With that room to breathe, kind-hearted curiosities about what more is possible, and sing-along assurances, songs like this offer transformative companionship in a disconnected world. I got goosebumps when CJ whispered “We’ve gotta try” before asking “Are you ready for the ride of your life?” and flowing into a punchy ending and a final ‘over to you’ state of softness.
I’ve been playing “Hand In Hand” ever since it was released, so its arrival as I travel along this Primrose Path put a smile on my face. I feel like I’m going to be repeating myself, but again this compassion, kindness, and stance of “I know what it’s like because I’m feeling it too” make magic for me as a listener. There’s something special about opening up while also creating a safe space of sorts for someone to feel like they can open up too.
But adding to this comfort is how great “Hand In Hand” is musically. The song is a stomping and addictive track, with huge choruses with incredibly hooking lines reiterating how we all just want to be loved and that something better is all but guaranteed to come. YES! The tense “I just want to make it all stop” section adds a relatable sense of sinking, where downward melting and chaotic riff rides reflect the difficulty navigating the labyrinth of the mind. Rhys’ voice showing up alongside CJ’s adds to the collective powers of encouragement, as does the bouncing and celebratory vibe.
As simple as it may be, the question of “Can you see it’s just a ride?” in the context of the album comes across like the reiteration of the song before it, as a reminder to choose to experience the ride as it comes. Though I’m enjoying the freshness of these pep talks that are firmly grounded in reality and life experience, I also acknowledge that I’m only three tracks deep and I don’t necessarily want to be pep-talked times infinity.
“Open Windows” is another song that has appeared persistently in my personal listening (and I may or may not sing along “And I’m better than that” …with a dodgy Welsh accent). It’s a song I find hard to fault based on how it ticks so many of my personal boxes of what makes music great. The chorus and its rhythms are so easy to join in with, and there’s stand out “wow” lyrics for me, including “We’ve got to bite the hand that feeds the fear” (HECK YES WE DO!) and “We’re all glamourising each other’s lives” (RIGHT?!).
Thematically, I love the exploration of facades and appearances (such as on Instagram), and the vulnerable experience of being truly honest in all of our flawed humanness. The song’s pockets of tension, created by rhythm and the delivery of lyrics (“It’s madness cured by madness”), are brilliantly done; feeling exactly as the experience of the emotion feels. And for a scream of frustration to shift into a flowing river of pace and ease leaves an impact with its contrast to that tension.
Dream State know how to craft great choruses and this is again displayed perfectly on “Open Windows”, so much so that it feels like it could almost go without saying! The gang vocal “HEY!” coupled with hearing CJ’s recognition of how we’re better than what we’re doing is connective and inspiring for change. What else can I say?! Dream State are an anthem machine and this one is to inspire fearless shedding of external expectations of perfection, and to remember that the grass always seems greener on the other side.
“Twenty Letters” only just releasing means I haven’t had a chance to play it on repeat as much as the previous singles! Since I’ve just written about this beauty recently, I won’t repeat myself, but I will take in the song in the context of the album.
I appreciate that this fifth track turns the spotlight toward CJ’s experience purely more than an encouragement for the collective. As beautiful as those pep talks are, it could come across as exhausting if the entire album was just that, and this shift of direction allows listeners just to take in what’s being shared as it is. Perhaps even returning the favour of kind understanding in response to CJ’s vulnerability.
I’m moved with each listen by how real “Twenty Letters” is, and the celebratory chorus of being unbreakable as a result of courageously facing one’s own shadowy pain. I believe one term for this is for one to become “unfuckwithable” and I back that! There’s power in defiantly stating (whether whispered, spoken, sung, or ROARED) you’re DONE with something, and great power in making friends with demons instead of trying to outrun them indefinitely.
Vocally, CJ more than capably shares every nuance of emotion, as does the entire Dream State collective along with her. Whether bristling in fire or tenderly explored, “Twenty Letters” is reinforced by noisy riffs or contemplative melodies. The seriousness of what has happened is backed by drum thuds and lines repeated like mantras: “I can’t lose hope and I won’t let you go”. I’m riddled with goosebumps in the kaleidoscopic end of finding something brilliant and radiant and strong in the aftermath of that moment in the dark.
After a run of three familiar singles, hitting upon new territory with “Spitting Lies” comes with a lot of curiosity. Upbeat and driven, “Spitting Lies”‘ colourful intro makes way for the spotlight of focus to fall upon a confused CJ trying to make sense of things. A ‘what have I done?’ vibe befalls the mood, and the chorus is an admission of wrongdoing. The refusal to give up comes also with a yearning for “something real”, with acknowledgement of mistakes made along the way.
With the second verse, I notice than the instrumentation is ‘speaking’ to me more clearly than it had previously, and a metaphorical pool of forlorn bass is inviting to spend time with, before soaring guitar achingly tugs at the heartstrings. The confessional song comes with sharp edges of defense that justify choices made, and the backing vocal is encouraging onward, instead of taking wrongdoing as a permanent sentence.
Coming into a percussive moment at the bridge, CJ seems to speak to someone directly; explaining herself and her choices while searing guitar and background screams of apology meld. I understand it as her expressing a choice to follow her happiness, and acknowledging the awkward tangles along the way that occurred before she finally chose to open a door that was calling to her. The extended screams coming at my ears along with the anthemic chorus paint a fire of determination to choose happiness, even if it means disappointing/upsetting others.
“Out Of The Blue” may be the heaviest track so far, which is not at all foreshadowed by its synthy and orchestral intro. Intricate instrumentation, sharp flares, and urgent pace punches and stomps forward. Thematically, I feel like it continues on from the track before it, with CJ wondering where her heart is leading her, but also having a restless “it’s now or never” vibe of needing to run with where she’s pulled.
I adore the heaviness of this song, feeling that oh-so-relatable fire of fighting for one’s happiness, even if it completely upsets everything in the process. Climbing in virtually breathless moments, CJ describes being torn but also that she’s “running late”. Whether hissing through gritted teeth or roaring wildly, the desire for change is palpable to me, with a surprise pocket of a trap beat showing up as if it’s thinking/decision music.
After guitar strums at its intro, this same kind of beat shows up in the sombre and slower “Chapters”. It’s tough to put into words, but with this eighth song of Primrose Path, I felt like I needed to sit perfectly still and undistracted and just take it in with reverence. Rhys takes the lead with vocals on “Chapters”, hitting beautiful peaks and easily forming the centrepiece of the swelling sound around him. As we’d heard of CJ previously, Rhys captures a full spectrum of emotion with his voice, and it’s easy to become spellbound with what’s being shared.
Tension builds in “Chapters” toward the full-feeling chorus which seeps into the emotionally bleeding bridge, with the two vocalists combined. Just beautiful, this seems like something to experience first hand more than rely on subjective experiences like mine.
Back in familiar territory with the brash and big “Primrose”, I feel like the song could be the prequel to “Twenty Letters”; wishing for there to be another way forward instead of facing challenges head on. Surrendered and honest, “Primrose” reveals an alcohol soaked existence which hasn’t provided relief, with vibrant screams rattling a cage with frustration. “God just give me some relief” reveals the desperation for answers or help.
An eclectic and percussion-focused bridge plays like a timer reaching its end, with ticks like a pressuresome clock. CJ more and more desperately questions why she keeps “falling back on myself”, perhaps instead of reaching outward for help, including the assistance of higher powers or a spiritual kind of guidance. The following scream and heartstring-tugging instrumentation hits powerfully, and the rapid run of images and sinking into other realities leaves an impression of no solution or happy ending arriving.
“I Feel It Too” is the bookend for Primrose Path, wafting in with an unexpected sensual groove that’s as dark as it is dreamy. Heavy with effects/processing (insert other more correct music producey term here), this sliding and colliding tale seems to take us into a dissolving connection. The song details how “I’ve never ever ever felt so fucked up”, and the quest to save oneself from what’s felt in the other leads to the inevitable end of a relationship.
Defiant riffs and screams make for a satisfying gear shift out of the chorus and into the palpable complication, albeit with persisting compassion. A grand and outpouring chorus explains how empathy influences this choice to leave, along with roaring frustration as to why they don’t open up. The song is peppered with CJ’s spoken additions to the sung parts, seeming determined to be understood in her decisions. Driven home by pummeling drums and a heartfelt melody, a quieter moment opens for the opportunity for a spoken word section. The groove we heard at the beginning returns, coupled with a pleading CJ, worried for someone she cares for. The song fades out to silence.
Though “I Feel It Too” ends up in the air, feeling like it’s leaving the ball in another’s court to respond, the aftertaste of Primrose Path is one of heartwarming hope. Whether the spotlight of attention is toward others or the self, each of these songs came wrapped up with the determination for something better to exist beyond tension, falseness, or pain.
It feels like Dream State have laid everything out in Primrose Path, whether raging in frustration or tender enquiry. Sonically the Welsh quartet are at home across that full expanse of sound, infectiously inspiring connection in what they’re sharing or thrashing around in the tension. My attention was unashamedly mostly toward what was being shared vocally, but nothing was jarring or absent in terms of instrumentation. The opposite was the case, with the sentiments being brought to full life.
I appreciated the lighter spaces for contemplation and the invitation to hook into the determination, such as “Are You Ready To Live”. I have a lot of love for the rawness of CJs screams across the album and the more shivery moments of softness (such as in “Open Windows”‘ bridge), and I was pleasantly surprised to hear Rhys shine on “Chapters”, as well as surprised by the more electronic moments that shifted away from their typical anthemic rock.
There’s a lot to be said for Dream State’s lyrics also, and the importance of “We all want to be, just want to be loved”, and the later-album expressions of concern but also strong boundary setting stance of “I need to leave”. I personally grew up fixated with music and lyrics, seeking to find understanding of myself, life, and others through them. I feel like Dream State are a band who are creating opportunities for this meaningful immersion too, specifically showing that feeling low or challenged is okay and that there’s also ways through it. And inversely, that it’s okay to chase your happiness and follow your heart, even if it means you move forward in ways that are not what people expect of you. Most importantly, I’m left with the heartwarming sense that hope persists and needs to be furiously held onto.
Try as I might, it’s hard to find fault with Primrose Path. Dream State songs are refreshing and empowering, as well as grounded in reality and skillfully crafted. Thematic threads connect the songs of the album in a way that’s not overdone nor left feeling repetitive. Each of their singles has found its way into my head and heart (and onto my Spotify ‘On Repeat’ playlist) and I can see the album as a whole doing the same.
Primrose Path releases 18th October via UNFD and can be pre-ordered now: https://unfd.lnk.to/PrimrosePath
Endearing and impactful, full of opportunities to celebrate or commiserate with the band. Both addictive and heartfelt = the perfect combination.