Listening to the ten songs on Dream Diary’s debut album, You Are the Beat, isn’t quite like taking a trip back in time, even though their ultra-sweet, C-86-loving indie pop sounds like it could have been released somewhere between Sarah 25 and 30. The guitars have the kind of rich, jangling sound Sarah bands strove for, the bass and drums have some bounce but never get loud, the production is wonderfully full and gauzy, and most of all, vocalist Jacob Sloan has the kind of intimate and soft voice that you pretty much had to have in 1990 if you were fronting a proper indie pop band. Pioneered by Bobby Gillespie on Primal Scream’s “Velocity Girl” and perfected by the guy in the Orchids, it’s a sound that can go horribly astray, but in the right hands -- like Stern’s -- you can convey all kinds of wounded, hopelessly romantic soul with just a few breathy words. The reason listening to You Are the Beat isn’t merely an exercise in pointless nostalgia is that, unlike a lot of bands from the era Dream Diary idolize, these kids are able to put it all together in one brilliant package. Too many early-'90s indie pop bands had the sound but weak songs or vice versa; only a few like the Field Mice and the Orchids managed to get it completely right. Add Dream Diary to that short list. Just about every track on the album could have been a Sarah A-side. From the rocking (for them) heartbreaker “El Lissitzky” to the Byrdsy “Is He Really Mine,” and from the achingly pretty ballad “Bird in My Garden” to the big-hearted dancefloor-ready “She Has a Way,” the album is made up of thoughtful lyrics, big hooks, variable dynamics, and songs that you’ll find yourself humming at odd times for days. It’s an impressive debut from a band that seemingly arrived on the scene fully formed and ready to break hearts with a cruel ease -- while at the same time filling said hearts with warmth and the kind of joy that well-played, deeply felt indie pop can bring.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra