A sophomore slump into pleasant anonymity
When looking through a band’s stated list of influences, a couple of artists tend to stick out as red flags. It was hard not to preemptively wince when noticing The Grateful Dead on Certainly So’s list of influences because most musical deadheads sand off any interesting psychedelic texture in favor of the blandest ‘jam’ music that does not so much jam as lethargically shrug. The sad thing is this duo’s debut, Future Self Only Dreams, did not fall into this trap. Still, the follow-up discards the compelling rhythm section and intoxicating slinky energy in favor of mediocre indie-folk vibes that manage to overstay its short run-time.
Future Self Only Dreams and Dreams of Green emerged from the same headspace—they are both vibe-heavy indie-folk with many harmonies. However, Future Self Only Dreams includes a surprising rhythm section, from the shuffling grooves of “The Way You Say No” to the bluesy swagger of “Dizzy,” paving the way for some fun melodic jam music. The ear-wormy hooks in the guitar helped the intimate songs, like the fragile acoustics and vocals echoing across space on “Cherry Tree” or the mournful pianos on “Even If You Do,” stand out. The opposite is true on Dreams of Green, where there is no such contrast to be found.
Between the debut and sophomore album, Certainly So’s instrumentation and overall sound palette significantly shrank. There’s no piano or strings until the closer, the rhythm section does not rise to a starring role and every attempt to diversity feels like a pale imitation of what came before. The roaring distortion of “Holy Roller” also compares unfavorably to the sinister vocal refrain and killer hook and bassline from “Dizzy.” Horns are the only significant new addition to “Daydreams” and “Song and Dance,” which sound fine on the latter but poorly handled on the former. The guitars and pedal steel do their job without much in the way of engaging melody.
One area where the band has not dialed things back is the vocals. It’s like Certainly So heard the praise for the first album and decided to overload the vocal tracks with too many harmonies and effects. “Jackie and Andy,” the opener, is a fine calmer cut. Still, the vocoder vocals in the final leg are distracting, and the backing vocals sound like they were recorded in a different studio beforehand. “Far From Home” has a similar effect as “Cherry Tree” butchers it with a rather shrill compression on all the vocal tracks. Nearly all of “Song and Dance” features both men singing, which might’ve been novel if it didn’t feel like this technique suffocated the entire album. Once again, the problem is not the musical idea itself, but how it’s the only musical idea, which feeds into the monotony.
Two of the in tracks on Dreams of Green are interludes delivered in the style of FM radio broadcasts. Usually, this would be irritating and a waste of time on a not-even 30-minute album. Still, the second of these, “Desert Vampires,” delivers the most interesting instrumental on the record. The band rediscovers a low, thrumming bassline and tosses in a bit of whammy-bar-inflected guitar and wavey pedal steel for a classic psychedelic soundscape. It’s not far removed from “Under the Rug” or “Wonderful Time” from the predecessor, but at least it causes some spike in the album’s flatlining mood.
Vibes are fine, and being pleasant is fine, but Future Self Only Dreams was also going for friendly vibes yet had some fun hooks and bothered with diversity. There is not enough passion or life to fill the 30 minutes of Dreams of Green. It’s another long line of banality inflicted by musical Deadheads, made even more disappointing here with how the debut bucked this trend.