During his time in town, Dustin Wong was a vital force in the Baltimore music and arts underground. This began in 2005 when he was a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Wong was the co-founder of Ecstatic Sunshine and a member of the recently disbanded Ponytail, both Baltimore-based groups. Now living in Brooklyn, Dreams Say is Wong’s second album for independent label Thrill Jockey. It comes much closer to the experience of his live sets than his previous album for the label.
Some guitarist’s solo records are content to drift along in the background of the room. Wong’s new record demands your attention, the playing so fierce and alive you can feel the heat coming off the guitar fret board. Here are some notes after several weeks of dedicated aural journeying.
It is tempting to hear the tracks as building upon one another in some sort of hour-long arc, as was the case with Wong’s 2010 album Infinite Love. But this is an album to be appreciated track by track. One reason for that is the technique used to record the album. Wong built these multi-layered structures live in the studio—one track, one take with minimal overdubs. Some tracks do pair well together, though. “Ice Sheets on Feet Prints” shares more than just part of a name with “Feet Prints on Flower Dreads.” They’re like two sides of the same coin, the slow build and stomp of the one slamming headlong into the frantic intensity of the other.
“Toe Tore Oh” is like a slow zoom away from a pointillist painting, taking the full six minutes to reveal itself. What are at first a few paired loops grows into as larger field of vision. Various figures at play, each about its own business, remain in harmony with the track as a whole. A fuzzed out bottom end comes in to ground things as we reach the maximum of multi-tracking that this field of sound can bear.
Such widescreen overload is common practice on the record. Tracks like “Triangle Train Stop” just get bigger and bigger until the listener is lost in a sea of riffs. Right when the breaking point is hit, the track abruptly ends and the next begins.
Still, tracks like the ambling “Pink Diamond” are friendly and inviting, allowing the listener room to breathe along the way. That “Pink Diamond” was chosen as the first track from the album to be released online is telling. The character of the whole record is encapsulated in the shimmer, wobble, and sway of this song’s five minutes.
But this is certainly a restless character. “Purple Slipped Right” stumbles about before settling down into the dirt while “Route Though Eyebrow” explores the cosmos. “Sprinkle Wet Toes” casts lazily about the pond before the metronome tick of “Pencil Drove Hill Moon” takes us in an entirely different and more precise direction.
In the final four tracks, things get nicely messy, the warm lazy bumblebee of a guitar lead giving “Evening Curves Straight” just the right counter movement. “Space Tunnel Graffiti” is built around some mean riffs, the track stomping around sloppily before finally locking into place. On finale “Diagonally Talking Echo” Wong shouts and yelps, the only time his voice is heard on the entire album.
Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads does not reveal itself easily upon first encounter. The aural overload and quick cutting is initially dizzying. When it does finally open up, the rewards are many. Wong’s musical growth is plain to see by the end of this record, and it leaves this critic eager to see what comes next.