Peel Dream Magazine

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Pad Review

by Fred Thomas

With his first two albums as Peel Dream Magazine, Joseph Stevens perfectly re-created the propulsive excitement and sophisticated dream states of early Stereolab, by himself on the 2018 home-recorded debut Modern Meta Physic and with a full band on 2020's Agitprop Alterna. At times, Peel Dream Magazine's loving homage to Stereolab's indie pop perfection got a little too on-the-nose, offering a detailed replica without much in the way of new personal or emotional angles to keep it from sounding like mere imitation. Third album Pad changes course drastically, and in doing so, corrects some of things that felt overly derivative on past records. Though Stevens' light and optimistic melodic character is still intact, he drops the motorik drums and straight-ahead guitar blasts in favor of playful chamber pop arrangements informed by Van Dyke Parks, late-'60s Beach Boys, and Harry Nilsson while flirting with touches of breezy Tropicalia and bossa nova along the way. The album begins with a soft vibraphone figure that takes a left turn into gentle flute arrangements, nylon string guitars, and subtle atmospheric synth sounds all slowly coming into focus. This instrumentation is a massive and overt departure from the bright indie rock that made up the first two Peel Dream Magazine albums, and Pad stays in this chipper mode for its entirety. More upbeat tunes like "Pictionary" or "Hiding Out" still have remnants of Stereolab influence, but the 1970s rhythm box drum machines and watery electronics are more Dots and Loops than the Peng!-modeled sounds of earlier PDM material. Throughout the album, Stevens injects mild psychedelia into his songs, with strange ambience moving around in the background behind the eerie brass parts of the fuzzy instrumental "Walk Around the Block" or strings melting into wobbly synthesizer parts on "Jennifer Hindsight." The bumbling banjo and smiling key changes of "Roll in the Hay" are taken right out of Smile-era Beach Boys, and in moments like this, Peel Dream Magazine find the nexus of happy-go-lucky songwriting and Brian Wilson worship explored by late-'90s acts like the High Llamas or Plush. Pad is a welcome change for a band who were becoming a little too stuck in their admiration for their biggest influences, and even with its clear reference points, the refreshing directional shift helps bring listeners closer to Stevens' individualized musical personality.

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