MK Ultra

The Dream Is Over

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Five years into their career, the do-it-yourself ethos was still firmly intact for San Francisco's MK Ultra. The Dream Is Over, their third LP, was recorded at the group's own Tiny Telephone studio and was released by their homegrown Artichoke imprint (with distribution help from Sub Pop and Revolver). The resulting batch of songs was the group's most accomplished yet. Though frontman John Vanderslice's increasingly frank lyrics may not fit comfortably into an alternative radio slot, the growing aplomb of the group's penmanship seemed bound to win them new converts. Balancing indie rock's calculated nonchalance and a record collection heavy on '70s pop/rock, MK Ultra delivers a set of understated pop anthems tinged with an undeniable sadness. Unlike many of their contemporaries, however, MK Ultra's music hardly rests on their combined influences. Thus, John Tyner's Moog parts are integral to the songs rather than exercises in retro-kitsch and the group's four-part harmonies never feel like attempts to re-create the sounds of their heroes. For all the delicate shading on songs like "Sunday" and "I Miss the War," the mix is always pared down to its essential components. Cutting through the bittersweet blend of saccharin hooks and melancholy twists are the twin guitars of Vanderslice and Tyner who deliver compressed, fuzzy batches of six-string electro rays that throw wrenches into the pop structures, giving The Dream Is Over its underlying edge. What listeners will notice first, however, are Vanderslice's lyrics: tales that mix pre-millennial depression with a healthy dose of sarcasm. MK Ultra may not have recorded their masterpiece, but The Dream Is Over finds them learning how to do just that.

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