Jeff Tobias wears a lot of hats (not literally, thankfully, because look at those beautiful locks on that album cover! I digress…), but on his debut solo record, he uses all those experiences to sculpt a twisted, delightful vision of pop-music-that’s-not-really-pop-music out of an angular heap of neon junk. Recurring Dream jumps between so many different ideas and influences but always manages to hold a cohesive narrative thread. This is where Tobias’s decades of experience shine through.
One of the first things that stands out is the incredible array of instrumentation Tobias plays on Recurring Dream. The breadth of his skill on so many instruments is unreal, but I am continually wowed by his woodwinds/reeds. “Holiday Music Pt. 1” blasts across ramshackle rhythms with guttural bass clarinet arrangements that writhe around in the mud for a while before Tobias teleports in and floats a sax solo skyward on the lilting piano bridge. Max Katz’s flute playing is an effervescent accent, but the compositional weight of “Holiday Music Pt. 1” is all Tobias.
Lyrically certain themes emerge and repeat. On the anthemic post-punk sluice of “Self-Portrait In a Convex Mirror” Tobias lightly sings heavy passages like “Self-assured but you know there’s a problem, but no one can agree on what’s wrong. Success means never knowing how sorry you look even with the clarity of alarm.” Stitched together between the angled capriciousness of synth arpeggios and howling horn leads, Tobias’s words are a bright light of reflection. As the song finds its zenith and the synths go supernova and an autoharp hits a resonating exclamation point, the weight of the issues strangling us all becomes an ingrained piece of our collective psyche. It’s such a powerful, memorable close to Recurring Dream.
The biggest compliment I can give the first great album of 2022 is that the more I listen to it, the better it gets. Not only does Tobias use every ounce of his own talent to create this beguiling world, but the list of contributors on Recurring Dream is also equally impressive; from Amirtha Kidambi’s and Dave Ruder’s cathartic vocals on “We’re Here to Help” and Jordan McLean’s trumpet screed on the same tune to the aforementioned Katz, Tobias pulls it all together like a puppet master. Every string, every sound is in his control.
Recurring Dream is put together to bring listeners in immediately with the opening hum of “Our Very Recent Past.” Those first few bars open this world up and let us know that we’re in for something different, something special. Each song has its own signature and each piece creates this larger, stunning mosaic. In the middle breakdown of the strange, haunted whimsy of “Ghost Story” a raucous group of voices begs, “Please be serious man!” Meanwhile, Naoko Uno’s cut-up chorus of backing vocals swirls around enchanting every crevice of this bizarre, wonderful song. It’s the perfect microcosm of why Recurring Dream is so good; unlike anything but with a familiar edge and a huge dash of unexplained magic. I can’t get this album out of my head and I’d like to keep it that way. Huge recommendation.