Half Dream – Monsters of Needing
By Jay Armstrong
Either Half Dream is a band you are completely unaware of or feel as though they hang out in your living room laughing at your jokes taking turns putting on favorite records in a nice comfortable night spent warmed by the fire burning in each other’s hearts. They are a band who appear in your life and feel as though they have always been there. Like coming across a perfectly worn pair of boots at a thrift shop to slip on feeling the hundred worn down miles walked in shaping them had been on the feet of someone whose steps and demeanor mirrored specifically your own; you practically catch yourself looking over your shoulder as you walk out of the store with them on your feet, the presence of the spirit who wore them before you lingers about as though the boots themselves were Whoopi Goldberg to their Patrick Swayze, making Demi Moores of us all, with all the cute sweet heartbroken teary-eyed smiling fullness of which such an allegorical metaphor implies.
Monsters of Needing opens with “Celia.” It comes in voicing an introspective grasping of one’s own anchored soul by the weighted center of life whose ever-presence has always been known but never embraced and, at best, vaguely named. This will be an album where the spotlight is a self-reflected Paige Renée Berry. I walk around with this read on things to come for an entire minute, assuming the rest of the band will be nondescript role players whose purpose rests on filling the void, coloring within the lines, taking up space with a hushed demeanor. All premature biases incorrectly projected by my own understanding gained through years of sorting through an inbox overflowing with weekend warriors whose ambitious bedroom thousand-take tracks are crutched by the belief that their own sad-sack moment in time is in some way more interesting than that of everyone else by rubbing a few three-syllable words together without ever getting down to the job of putting their shoulder against the wheel with the presence and conviction we as listeners demand prerequisite to getting beyond the gate of our guarded time worthy of those only whose crafted substance is the brush by which they paint their masterpieces. You don’t have to strut around all crotch forward with an egos heavy hand front and center to prove yourself worthy of our time—just ask Patti Smith and Deborah Anne Harry. “Celia,” rope-a-dopes us into a belief of what is about to come might end up off-balanced by its one-sided goodness. When Half Dream jumps off as a collective, it is a rush of nervousness underscoring the experience as though the rest of the band had shown up late to a one-take recording session and Berry told them all to just fall in as soon they were ready. Most bands have about enough restraint to hold out for twenty seconds at best before a formulaic coming together. A minute is forever in the span of a song, The Minutemen could knock out three songs in that amount of time, Axl Rose could fall off the stage and climb back to the mic with enough time to screw up another verse completely. Thank god this is how it goes down. No doubt, the greatest therapist in the world is a reverbed Fender Jaguar on clean but the idea of settling in for a softspoken album carrying the weight of seven therapy sessions seems a bit much as things are at this moment. It has been one hell of a year for all of us; I assume to not be alone in craving the escapist importance of music now more than ever.
The album was created before the brakes were slammed on life, so it is purely coincidental, but Half Dream comes off with seeming awareness of our escapist craving. The personal is lain out before us but steps to life through how all of it mends the introspective by inserting interesting distance and space to bring about fullness to the experience. They open Monsters of Needing showcasing Berry’s central open beauty spoken poetically before being obscured in a static head-nodding alrightedness of full theatric impression. The opening track of the album is a statement made of a balance the band begins to grasp of their potential to push things in a pop direction without sacrificing either voice nor craft at the alter of sensibility. It is a play on the best moments from the better Lissie songs with a reminder that if Lissie had come up in Austin, they would be as likely as the rest of our favorites in this town to find themselves booked on a Tuesday night at Cheer Up Charlies as the third band on a four-band bill. To say anyone creating music in Austin has “arrived” (or could ever “arrive”) would be laughably amateurish. If you have proven—as Half Dream already has—an ability to swim in these waters long enough to be considered as an existent present staple of the cultural ecosystem; there is no “arriving,” just merely adjusting the dials in a way that feels appropriate for the band on their own path as everyone else in the world squints their eyes to the horizon noting the band’s mirage in the distance slowly taking the form of substance as the sound of their footsteps gets close enough to hear. You sink in unacknowledged obscurity or swim with confident born-for-this ease; there are no in-betweeners in this town; even if it is merely a spark of potential we stand around patiently waiting to develop, you either have it or you don’t. Half Dream most certainly have IT.
I already wrote at length about “Strange Lover” back in March, it is worth restating that even in the mix of this album as a whole, it as a song which stands out in its relating yet acutely unique speaking to the moment of suspended loss pivoted at the realized breaking of “us,” a lingering looking back at what was with a turning eye to the distant broken future whose unknown has only one distinct characteristic; they will soon be a stranger to who and what we were. There are not many absolute truths in life; once the wheels of change are set in motion, the growing apart coinciding with the absented love known fully by a vacuum emptiness separating me from you becomes that which we must lie broken by in our inability to do anything beyond be witness is one of them. Other than death’s finality writing “if only we had more time” upon our headstones, is there anything more tragic we must all endure? Certainly, future albums will push Monsters of Needing to the background of what potentially could embody Half Dream as a whole—such is the nature of time and progress—yet still, “Strange Lover” is a brave bold song with the potential to stand for what the band means as a whole to be revisited for a long time to come, not just by lyric depth or rarely visualized universal truths, but by how each member of the band walks hand in hand through it with the character becoming of individuals who choose being beside one another, giving room for the other voices, each member proud to have each other to stand beside for mutual gain by mutual respect. Rousseau eat your heart out.
What we hear on the first two songs is reimagined throughout the following five. The lead guitar of Tyler Jordan stands out notably on “Warmest Blue” where the simplistic playing often slighted by his own choosing to make their sound expressively bigger without shaking up a big show of himself in the process gets a brief stepping forward that leaves us wishing there were more of it; not only on this album or with this band but with music in general. Lead guitarists as a demographic are known by chauvinist bravado or head down pedal pushed hiding in the shadows, not enough skilled players study at the school of John Cale and we as an audience have been wronged by it for far too long. Jordan may not feel the need to show us what all the hours of practice have given him the ability to do but his naturalistic voice whispering words of wisdom in a hushed accepting tone leaves us hoping for more than what he puts out there. It is as beautiful as it is frustrating. Likewise, “Warmest Blue” comes off big for what Connor Strickland and Caitlin Callas bring to the band; not so much through what we hear on record but by how we can imagine it will blowout live. One can sense already how the cymbal smashed, racing heart, crashing against an emotional shoreline will put an audience on their heals.
Taken out of context, “Know You Best” might as well be an ode to Austin in the wake of our current post-apocalyptic losing fight against capitalistic insensitivity. “Adventure Song” belongs on the soundtrack to whatever upcoming A24 drama is in the works. “Sorry is a Love Word” shows the most potential of tapping Half Dream into the ears of a future broader audience with shortened distance by way of comparison to Angel Olsen; something that surfaces vaguely, if at all, on the rest of the album, “Sorry is a Love Word” could distinctly be mistaken for Olsen if heard for the first time played over brunch.
Often I am struck by how, even by those whose opinions I respect, listeners fail to take into account lyric craftmanship. Sure the older we get, the more the vibe and delivery make Nikki and the Corvettes or Thee Tsunamis come off with a sustainable brilliance we are more likely to throw on to support our good times but the choice to remain oblivious to anything beyond the few catchphrases of a chorus we can grasp effortlessly is offensive. No band, style, or depth is for everyone, and certainly standing in an audience surrounded by strangers who feel as though they are already our friends has importance. We would all prefer to not be mashed between a group of Chads and a pack of hatchet tatted juggalos at the next Sailor Poon show any more than someone who gets excited about Burning Man wants to see me climbing off of my bike near their campsite while on their next weekend glamping trip. I would never say Half Dream is for everyone or sniff my upper lip at someone for skipping over any band for any reason but for someone who is already into this group to take their floating buzz at face value without walking around in the lyrical depth which is the heart of what they collectively bring to life is an injustice. Wrapping up Monsters of Needing with “Love is a Sword,” the song in which the album title is derived, speaks best for the depths from which these songs are drawn up and how poetically stand alone the words themselves are.
Home is where the heart is
And it houses all my shame
A love not without blindness
Learned to speak my name
A monster made of needing
And a baby filled with rage
I beat my fists and waited
For the help that came too late
Love is a sword
Love is a sword
Love is a sword
I cut my throat to pieces
On the sharpness of your truth
You never meant to hurt me
The way that they hurt you
Love is a sword
And I cut this cord
And I cut this cord
Throw Half Dream a few bucks for the album. If you dig what they are about, share them. Without being together in real life it is hard to show a band what they mean or how much what they are doing has value to us. Until we get back to normal, let Half Dream know you appreciate them in whatever way you see fitting.