Sydney Blake has gone through quite a few personnel and band-name changes over the past five years or so. She fronted Hedley Lamar back in 2011, went by the name Polaroids and Petrichor for a while in 2013, and performed as part of a duo called Jester James on and off around 2010 ... plus whichever ones I might have missed. In each of these incarnations, Sydney proved herself to be a talented and unique vocalist and songwriter. She has a knack for writing infectious but unpredictable melodies; her voice carries an air of cheerful naïveté (in the best way possible ... think Nina Persson from The Cardigans) which is aided by a subtle, quirky inflection in her diphthongs.
Sydney’s new band, The Misters, consists of Sydney on lead vocals and ukulele, with a guitarist and drummer as backup. The EP has quite a bit of extra instrumentation, the most charming of which might be the glockenspiel parts in “Sad Songs.” In general, the new orchestrations are well written and arranged, though the “production value” is less-than-great.
The Dream Chase is Sydney Blake and The Misters’ first CD, a self-released, five-track EP. The band released the EP back in August 2014, but I think they have full-length album due for release very soon. I have been listening to the EP off and on since last October. Initially, I listened to the album a dozen times or more within the first three or four days. As time has passed, I have “moved on,” though only because new things came along, stealing my attention away. Listening again, I still find the album as nice as I remember it being during those first few weeks.
As I said earlier, one of Sydney Blake’s strengths is her gift for crafting memorable yet fresh melodies. There are a few great examples of this on The Dream Chase. The chorus in “Stick to the Plan” might be the best example.
There are really two distinct sections in the chorus. The first one starts with a descending, then ascending scale set to syncopated rhythm. This is a nice, catchy melody. It “feels” like this is the song’s “hook” (which is a word a hate but it has fallen into such wide use that I feel like I have no choice any more), and it would be a great one. But, the next phrase features a very different, equally “hooky” melody. This one is more static than the first. The lyrics here, “‘Cause it feels my mind keeps me up all night,” are great, and the accompanying melody, though kind of static, is perfect. Then, just when you think Sydney has arrived at the chorus’ main melody, she jumps back to a variation on the first one, then a repeat of the second one, plus a two-bar extension. All of this combines to make what would have been an awkward fourteen-bar phrase sound perfectly fine, great even.
Another nice surprise shows up in “Sad Songs,” where Sydney toys with some mode mixture. At the end of each verse, the song lands on a minor chord where there should be a Major chord. Put into music theory terms, she throws a iv where there should be a IV, at least according to everything before it.
This is a perfect example of Sydney’s talent for throwing just the right curve balls at us, but without over doing it. Plus, at least in “Sad Songs,” she keeps everything perfectly sing-a-long-able and catchy.
Though “Supernova” is clearly the EP’s strongest “single” (I think it is bit over produced), my favorites are “Sad Songs” and “Dreams” (though I do wish, so, so much, that the strings weren’t fake … especially the pizzicato stuff). “Dreams” is just a nice song with well-thought orchestration. The melodies are trite, with a lot of empty space.
As mentioned before, The Dream Chase’s weakest elements are the obviously-less-than-real orchestrations. This is especially obvious with the string parts. I think the producer, Adam Sisco, made the mistake of trying to make the strings too big, as if he had an entire symphony at his disposal. The parts are right for that, and, had he access to an orchestra, they would sound great. But, the “orchestra” comes across as kind of cheesy instead. Still, one can hardly blame the group for their ambition to fill out the band’s sound with a lush string section … I do like what Sydney /Adam did with the percussion—the glockenspiel parts in “Dreams” and “Sad Songs” are near-perfect and the chimes in “Midnight” add just the right amount of levity to the chorus.
Overall, I am thoroughly impressed with The Dream Chase. It shows so much potential and inventiveness. Sydney’s grasp of melodic writing, and her sweet, almost vibrato-less voice is just beautiful. While writing this review, I’ve listened to the EP half-a-dozen times (or more) over the course of two days, and I am not tired of it in the least. Those cute, slightly unpredictable melodies have a way of bouncing around in my head, which is something I welcome.