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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Death Dream's Premature End

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There is much fanfare surrounding the final show of Milwaukee-based noise-rock act Death Dream, which is a bit strange considering that the band, despite being together for two years, has yet to put out a record of any kind. In fact, the only aural evidence that the band ever existed is a recording of a scorching set the band performed live on WMSE, which may or may not ever see a proper release. And now Death Dream is calling it quits, as vocalist Brian Rogers plans to relocate to the West Coast.

Such an abrupt ending is fitting for a band that seemed to exist in a constant state of flux.

"There was always turmoil, from the beginning," Rogers explains. "And there tends to be turmoil in all the bands I'm in."

Some of this turmoil may have been internal, notes guitarist Christopher Van Gompel (also a member of city favorites IfIHadAHiFi; every member of Death Dream also plays in other projects). As Van Gompel says with a laugh: "Normal people are not attracted to the type of music we played. If you're making music that sounds like us, odds are you have some deep psychological issues."

And this instability found a perfect outlet in Death Dream's uneasy, lurching approach to songwriting. The band drew liberally from The Jesus Lizard, but there were also traces of noise-rock pioneers Flipper in the best of the band's material, along with a strange sort of accessibility that makes such material both catchy and disconcerting. Songs such as "Trim the Fat" and "Jesse Is Psyched About Rock N' Roll" charge forward with a confident swagger that is infectious. Such moments make the lack of a proper studio recording all the more tragic: By the end of their time together, the scene veterans that make up Death Dream had stumbled onto something quite powerful.

At the center of Death Dream's sound were Rogers' deranged, off-kilter vocals. Rogers was still in Milwaukee-based punk act White Problems when he joined Death Dream, and this new project allowed him to push both his lyrics and delivery in new directions. In White Problems, Rogers explains, "All of my lyrics were jokes. This was more dark and serious."

In many ways, Death Dream was a throwback to the pre-Internet era of underground music, when bands attempted to cultivate their sound and grow their audience in a live setting instead of heading straight to the studio. This does not mean the band was unproductive.

"We would play a new song every show," Van Gompel notes. "At a couple of shows half the set was new songs." The band never hurried songs, and their material was much stronger for that.

Sadly, the group has also followed the well-worn tradition of breaking up too soon. Yet neither Rogers nor Van Gompel seems particularly depressed about it. For Van Gompel, the premature breakup seems as fitting an ending as any for a band that never had a sure future. And for Rogers, a band's time together does not necessarily reflect its legacy. He notes that one of his favorite bands, Rites of Spring, "was not a band for even a year, and they made the most amazing record I've ever heard." And while Rogers is not placing Death Dream alongside Rites of Spring in the pantheon of punk legends, he humbly admits that—when asked why so many in the city took to his band—"I think we made a good product. Maybe that's what it is."

Yep, that's probably it. R.I.P. Death Dream.

Death Dream shares its final show July 23 at the Cactus Club with Architects of the Aftermath, Animal Lover and Les Deux Magots.

Photo by CJ Foeckler, Death Dream (from left): Justin Krol, David Gregorski, Nathan Greene, Chris Van Gompel and Brian Rogers.