The most surprising thing about Dreamcar is that we’re getting music from them at all. After all, situations like this happen all the time, where high-profile musicians insist they’re collaborating on a brand new project, and yet the only evidence is maybe one song at best. It wouldn’t be unfair to assume the same outcome when AFI frontman Davey Havok announced his work with No Doubt bassist, guitarist and drummer Tony Kanal, Tom Dumont and Adrian Young only last year, and considering that this band has only existed for about half a year, a debut album at this stage confirms that this isn’t some tentative endeavour. It’s not really a surprise that Dreamcar want to get something out as early as possible, given AFI’s most recent album that fades even more on a daily basis and the fact that No Doubt have been virtually inactive for half a decade.
When looking at Dreamcar’s debut as a whole then, the result is certainly a curious one. This is clearly a band who make no bones about being a side project, though by the low standards set for both that and supergroups, Dreamcar vault clear over them. It’s something of an oddity in the modern rock hemisphere in its hearty embrace of new wave, synthpop and disco, but there’s such a looseness that’s indicative of a band who are clearly comfortable with treading on this ground. Sonically they’re closest to Havok’s day job in a reliance on the subtleties that come in prominent synth work, but Dreamcar have more vibrancy to them. The explosive Kill For Candy has more overtly outward appeal than anything from AFI’s last album, while the strut and winding saxophone The Preferred make for a pretty convincing goth floorfiller. Havok himself is a lot less austere too, though losing none of the charisma that effortlessly bleeds through on the sassy spoken verses of On The Charts and the ridiculously fun All Of The Dead Girls.
When Dreamcar decide to parse out the different effects of their influences, however, the drop-off in quality is notable, as evidenced by this album’s final third. There’s nothing that’s outright awful here, but with the twinkly, cheesy synthpop of Slip On The Moon, or Show Me Mercy which tries to implement a darker, more ominous guitar tone, it leads to the album unfortunately tailing off. The mood and composition is almost consistently bang on, but occasionally Dreamcar’s execution leaves something to be desired, lacking the solid pop appeal that tracks like Kill For Candy and All Of The Dead Girls have. It feels as though details are skimmed over at points rather than tightened up, and Dreamcar slip further into easily-identifiable side project territory as the album progresses.
And that’s a shame, considering that more than a few times, it feels as though Dreamcar are as good as they are by complete accident. This is not a deep album by any degree, grounded in romanticism that ranges from sweet, heartfelt sentimentality on Ever Lonely and The Assailant to fancy-free spontaneity on All Of The Dead Girls and The Preferred. The latter bracket is probably the best one to encompass Dreamcar’s intent here, particularly in terms of Havok’s involvement in the project. There’s none of the stoic, gothic front of his other projects, instead seeing him embrace the lighter tone and the aforementioned looseness for a change of pace that’s not only refreshing, but actively expands his performing repertoire. It might be looking a bit much into what’s clearly conceived as a light, fun project to fill up some downtime, but others of a similar nature don’t have as much clear effort put into them as this.
For those reasons, Dreamcar do stand out, even if they never intended to. The initial miscommunication of an AFI / No Doubt hybrid has been replaced by a sleek, well-crafted project whose relative insularity and unassuming nature works to its advantage. Perhaps it would’ve been even better as an EP, accentuating its very best assets and avoiding any petering out towards the end, but again, expecting perfection from a band for whom that’s the last thing on their mind is a lost cause. As it stands, Dreamcar still manage to float above the typical supergroup chaff into something of genuine quality.
For fans of: Depeche Mode, Echo And The Bunnymen, Duran Duran
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Dreamcar’ by Dreamcar is out now on Columbia Records.