Calvin Johnson

Before the Dream Faded

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The second solo album from Beat Happening/Dub Narcotic Sound System mastermind Calvin Johnson is a different kettle of fish from his first set under his own handle, 2002's What Was Me. While What Was Me was recorded with just Johnson and his acoustic guitar, Before the Dream Faded pairs him with a variety of different collaborators, ranging from the delicate electric piano and violin backing of "When Hearts Turn Blue" to the jagged electric guitar textures of "Obliteration Overload" and the straightforward rock of "Rabbit Blood." While the overall tone is low-key, Johnson does manage to generate a solid and soulful groove on "The Leaves of Tea," and "I Am Without" conjures up a moody resonance; this is a decided step away from the minimalism of Johnson's work with Beat Happening and the white-boy funk of Dub Narcotic. However, while there was a heart-on-my-sleeve romanticism to the songs on What Was Me that was winning, Before the Dream Faded goes off into less personal and more impressionistic directions on several tracks that lack the same degree of emotional impact, and even if you're accustomed to Johnson's craggy Valium-OD vocals, the deliberately off-kilter harmonies on "When Hearts Turn Blue" and the wandering vocal patterns of "When You Are Mine" are a step back from the confident sound of his best work. There's enough good stuff on Before the Dream Faded to confirm that Calvin Johnson is still a viable artist with something to say, but for the most part this is a step or two down from his best work, and lacks the charm and immediacy of What Was Me.

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