Second outing from this Baltimorean all-star noise-psych-experimental offshoot slows things down to a slow blues grind, building long-ish dirges around brutish guitar riffs and Lexie Mountain’s bruised and rasping alto. Alternate vocalist Chiara Giovando is out, taking with her much of the lightness and play from the self-titled debut, and guitarist Jorge Martins (of Fish & Sheep) is in, most strikingly in “Awkward for Everyone”’s blistering solo. Core members – Lexie, Nate Nelson (Mouthus), Jake Freeman and Nick Becker – remain, continuing to pursue their warped and distended take on 1960s psychedelia.
“Feel So Good” sets the pace at ponderous, its mammoth guitar chords landing like heavy hands on the shoulder. Lexie Mountain settles into a Joplin-esque growl, keening and howling about all the things that feel so good. Here, as elsewhere on the album, she pursues emotion over melody, leaving behind the relative hookiness of last album’s “Four Winds of the Owl,” for more ritual, elongated phrasing. Throughout War Dream, Nelson’s asynchronous drumming is the main source of forward motion, pushing the slow cadences and peppering the interstices with tonal multi-tom fills. “Awkward for Everyone” picks up the tempo incrementally, enlivened by Freeman’s marvelously loopy, punch-drunk bassline. (It sounds like the strings have been loosened to near hanging-off-the-instrument slackness.) Yet by “Melanie,” a sense of same-i-ness has set in – another slackened and repetitive riff, another spate of Gnostic, free-associative verse. By this point, you might be remembering, with some nostalgia, all the things that Lexie can do (and does) with her voice in her other project, Lexie Mountain Boys. For the album’s first half, she’s undeniably powerful, but somewhat monochromatic.
The latter half of the CD – and side B of the vinyl – is taken up by the lumbering, loosely structured “Life Is the Knife,” a nearly 20-minute saunter through blues-tinged improvisation. The piece ebbs and flows, anchored by a bassline that bobs and weaves, with sudden surges of guitar mayhem and odd bits of instrumentation that flicker in and out of focus. Yet the reason this track doesn’t drag, even when shorter ones on the album do, is because this is where Lexie finally lets loose, yowling and railing and incanting, by turns a rock diva, a stoned priestess, a blues belter, an abandoned lover, a banshee. As she takes on new characters, so does the music, setting off firestorms of distorted, atonal guitar, spasmodic flurries of drums, tense intervals of bare bass and rhythm. Where earlier tracks seem to circle around a single idea, this one turns into a journey …and one well worth taking.