Released in 1982, The Days of Wine and Roses is generally regarded as the masterpiece in the Dream Syndicate's body of work, but stylistically it's also the outlier among their studio albums. The first lineup's "Dylan jams with the Velvet Underground" approach was truly bracing, but a look at their catalog reminds us it was a starting point from which the Dream Syndicate consistently evolved, drifting away from their gritty roots. Their three subsequent albums -- 1984's Medicine Show, 1986's Out of the Grey, and 1988's Ghost Stories -- had distinct sonic personalities of their own as the musicians working with frontman and songwriter Steve Wynn shifted with time. Given all this, it's at once surprising and expected that 2017's How Did I Find Myself Here?, the first album from the new edition of the Dream Syndicate that Wynn unveiled in 2012, doesn't sound much like anything the group did in the past. To its credit, it doesn't sound like Wynn's solo work, either; like the Dream Syndicate's best music, this is dominated by ferocious guitar interplay (in this case between Wynn and Jason Victor, who worked on Wynn's solo projects and is the only non-DS veteran in this lineup), but here the attack is bigger and more forceful than their post-Wine and Roses efforts, and trippier and more consciously psychedelic as well. This music has a spacy, exploratory feel, reinforced by the electric piano overdubs, though it doesn't meander, even on extended numbers like "Glide" and the title cut. And while this band can rock very hard when it wants to (cue up "The Circle" for evidence), it lacks the snarl that was part and parcel of Wynn's earlier work, instead displaying a certain nervous cool. With Victor, bassist Mark Walton, and drummer Dennis Duck, Wynn has fashioned a band that possesses many of the virtues of the Dream Syndicate's best work -- smart songwriting, epic but non-clichéd guitar figures, a willingness to explore the musical space without getting lost, and a rhythm section that holds all the diverse elements together -- without trying to replicate something created 30 years ago. And with the final track's contribution from original bassist Kendra Smith, this band shows it can look back without being beholden to the past. If you're hoping for a sequel to The Days of Wine and Roses, How Did I Find Myself Here? isn't it. But if you want to hear a clever, ambitious, and blessedly noisy set from four people who know how to do it right, then the Dream Syndicate's return to duty will find an honored place in your music collection.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming