With the sort of presence that Dream State have been building over the course of the last year or so, it’s reached a level of fever pitch where the enormity of this debut album can’t really be overstated. They’re easily one of the most banked-on new bands at the moment, bringing to the table a brand of post-hardcore that’s definitely familiar in its unashamed fixation on gigantic, powerful melodies and a modern finish, but CJ Gilpin has cemented herself as a vocal powerhouse not to be avoided, and the conviction and raw emotion she’s capable of has earned Dream State a lot of praise thus far. It’s genuinely seemed like, to many, they’re incapable of putting a foot wrong with strings of enormous singles and live performances solidifying that notion, but it’s not as if Primrose Path is guaranteed a home run before it’s even taken a hit. The deck might be stacked wildly in its favour right now, but the documented lack of versatility in Dream State’s approach (arguably the biggest sticking point they’ve been burdened with in the past) doesn’t seem to have gone away judging from its lead-off tracks, and while that isn’t a huge issue, it can make the difference between a good debut and a standout one.
But here’s the thing – Primrose Path doesn’t entirely deviate from the one very clear style that Dream State have so frequently delivered, and yet, that fact that it’s still a great album shows a level of canniness the band has for blowing these tracks up to an exorbitant size, and making them stick in such an enormous way. There are the makings of a potentially world-beating band marked all over Primrose Path, as Dream State continue to pile on truckloads of power, aggression and – perhaps most crucially – genuine vulnerability for what’s bordering on a masterclass in what can really be done with contemporary alt-rock.
Admittedly though, it does take a few listens before Primrose Path hits. At first, the limitations of Dream State are a lot more apparent; they have vision, but it can feel funnelled down the same course of enormous bluster with only a few degrees separating each instance, and in a more casual listen, there’s a one-noteness to that which can slightly underwhelm. But when it clicks that Dream State are arguably superior to everyone else in their scene when it comes to hitting the sweet spot within command of scope, and that this stormy, consistently high-octane backdrop is where that power hinges onto the most, Primrose Path really begins to open up into some great. It’s not even like great moments don’t come immediately either; opener Made Up Smile is a positively transcendent example of just how cinematic this sound can be with the thunderous guitars and drums accented by synths that lend a sense of grandeur almost akin to mid-period Linkin Park in its arena-courting intentions, while Hand In Hand and Out Of The Blue lean on the crushing, metallic lows within Dream State’s sound that tap into a fantastic sense of darkness and claustrophobia. It’s an easy sensation for them to achieve in all honesty, given how dense of an album this is and how the production keeps everything loud and seismic, and while a bit more modulation would be preferable (even if Chapters isn’t a great song, it’s a welcome breather all the same), in some ways, the enormity of Primrose Path kind of demands it. This is an album shooting for titanic scope after all, and Dream State make use of that with impressive regularity.
But overall, the real ace in the whole is CJ Gilpin’s vocals, and while she’s always had tremendous range, both in terms of volume and emotion, Primrose Path really does nudge her closer to true superstardom than probably even the most ardent of Dream State supporters could’ve predicted. She’s got the pipes on tracks like Are You Ready To Live and Primrose to bump those arena stages up to stadiums with little hassle, but it’s great to see more screams peppered across the album, not only because the balance of vocal styles within Dream State’s material has often felt more uneven than it should even for ancillary techniques like this, but because there’s such an instinctiveness to them, with the emotion fully taking over in a way that so few modern post-hardcore bands can reasonably muster, and the expulsions of real passion being completely devoid of stylistic obligation. This is all coming from a real place, and for as rare as that can feel for bands adopting as much polish and fine-tuning as Dream State do, they really do offer more here to make it unavoidable. It’s not like the spoken-word passages within certain songs feel feigned in their grief and cracked-voice sincerity, and even if the mawkishness that naturally comes from how often the technique is repeated can’t really be avoided, that’s not exactly Dream State’s fault for bringing that emotional rigour as far forward as possible.
That also provides a much-needed boost for the writing itself too, and how a lot of the focus on personal battles and mental health avoids stumbling into the pitfalls that feel all too common nowadays. Yes, these are indeed the same sort of big, populist anthems that, at their core, feel tailor-made to have as wide an application as possible, but Gilpin being a sensational vocalist makes it impossible to believe that she’s not invested in what she’s selling. The cries for agency and freedom within a life that feels increasingly restrictive on Made Up Smile are palpable, as are is indomitable desire to be prevail and empower on Hand In Hand and Twenty Letters that wipes the floor with so many similar sentiments as far as real conviction goes. It’s all just as well-developed on a more detailled, personal level too, as she tries to power through the manipulative mental clouds of Spitting Lies and laments a loved one’s inability to cope spurned on by self-medication on I Feel It Too. Again, it’s all general framed to mirror the wide-reaching sound that Dream State constantly strive for, but it’s hard to say it’s not just as effective, and that Primrose Path comes together as a remarkably robust listen far more often than not.
Honestly, for their ambition and intentions, and how well-realised pretty much all of them are, it’s hard to fault Primrose Path much at all. There’s maybe still a bit of distance to go before Dream State are catapulted into the modern rock stratosphere as has already been predicted for them numerous times, but they’re surging ahead in a way that’s bound to turn enough heads for them to reach that milestone stage in no time. They’ve crossed the hurdle that so many hype bands notoriously struggle to, after all, and with a debut like Primrose Path, where everything great and worth celebrating about them is condensed into such a lean, effective package, they’ll be making that leap far sooner than later. It feels like the necessary culmination of everything that Dream State have been working for and that all the machinations behind them have been looking to set in place, and it really is something excellent.
For fans of: Hands Like Houses, Linkin Park, Too Close To Touch
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Primrose Path’ by Dream State is released on 18th October on UNFD.