Review Summary: A unique listening experience for anyone looking to dive into the world of experimental, sound-driven music.
Psychic TV is undeniably an interesting beast. Fronted by the enigmatic and utterly bizarre Genesis P. Orridge; the provocateur extraordinaire behind the confrontational 'Throbbing Gristle', Psychic TV have enjoyed a nearly 3 decade career dwelling on the fringes of Avant-Garde culture. “Dreams Less Sweet”, their second fully realized studio album, is arguably one of the greatest journeys in experimental music ever recorded. While their career may be littered with-near tabloid quality weirdness (re: Genesis' transformation into the 'Pandrogyn'...) and a smattering of well received, albeit rather dull, Rave albums, "Dreams Less Sweet" stands apart as a unique experience in abstraction. This album features many individuals who went on to cement mammoth reputations in the avant-garde music scene including Jhonn Balance and Peter Christopherson who later formed ‘Coil’ (the latter was also a member of Throbbing Gristle) and appearances from David Tibet of 'Current 93' fame.
Psychic TV began recording experimental music after the collapse of industrial pioneers "Throbbing Gristle". Created almost as a companion piece to the late, great spiritual think-tank "Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth" the first two full length releases "Force Thee Hand ov Chants" and “Dreams Less Sweet” seem to have the most aggressive occult influenced atmosphere. While the former was much more traditionally musical in structure, “Dreams Less Sweet” plays like an experimental audio ritual. So many elements come together to make up the whole of the album it is almost dizzying. There are traditional classical instruments in some places, home-made instruments in others and found sounds to round out the balance. Recorded in holophonic sound, the finished product is best absorbed through a good set of headphones to fully experience this musical world as it shifts and moves around you.
After a brief chanted intro piece, the album properly opens with a beautiful xylophone and oboe-driven pop track (yeah, there is an oxymoron in there somewhere) that serves to lull the listener into a false sense of security. It plays like the gentle come-up of a trip that has yet to peak with real intensity. Or in more musical terms: while it is unquestionably an odd little tune, something about it is still comfortable and familiar and it is not until this familiar moment has passed that we are confronted with the realm of the musically unknown. This theme presents itself several times throughout the album, most notably with the tracks "White Nights" and "Clouds Without Water". These quasi-memorial 'pop' songs help provide the listener with a contrast to an album that is otherwise made up of occult themed mantra-chanting and spoken word passages that would make a fine compliment to any good Chaos Magickian's ritual space. There are moments of Gristle-tinged Industrial noise that show an indication of the musical direction that would later be taken by Coil, but by and large "Dreams Less Sweet" stays away from territories occupied by oppressive darkness. As a result, while Psychic TV’s sophomore effort is still a very weird listening experience, it is one that can be listened to, and enjoyed, by anyone looking to make their way into the world of experimental music.
In all honesty, this is a very difficult album to review. It is so unusual, and so open to personal interpretation that finding the proper language to describe it objectively can be a chore. Unlike many releases, there are not many obvious influences that this album can be compared to. In fact, there aren't even any contemporaries or colleagues that they can be concretely referenced against. There are passages that show influence from Throbbing Gristle I suppose, but generally this album is a much more 'positive' listen. And sure, there are moments that foretell the future of Coil, but much like Gristle most of Coil's career is much more unpleasant. It turns out that "Dreams Less Sweet" mostly sounds like, well, Psychic TV in their pre/post Acid-House days. I, for one, rate this album highly and it is a personal favourite of mine but I am willing to admit that as a result, my rating is purely subjective. This album should be listened to, and therefore judged on the basis of its importance as a piece of avant-garde, occult music. A niche market for sure, but one that I am happy to be able to experience!