There are voices that tell stories, long before you’ve worked out what said voices are saying to you. Listen to a Tom Waits or Nick Cave record, and you’ll know they’ve seen things, even before they’ve explained said things to you. Listen to Elliott Smith or Connie Converse, and you’ll know the gutters they’ve travailed – long before they describe them to you. Trophy Eyes frontman John Floreani is one such voice.
The Australian tells his stories using a dewy baritone. It’s a little bit like Brandon Flowers gargling honey or The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn after singing lessons. This, the band’s third album, should be viewed as less a collection of songs and more like Floreani’s journal set to music. It’s also a fine argument as to why he and his band are emo’s most interesting newcomers.
Divisive term, emo, but in this case, it’s one applied with the greatest affection. The American Dream was written after Floreani decamped to Texas to be with his girlfriend in 2016. Consequently, it’s a collection of songs saucer-eyed and refreshingly free of cynicism.
It’s a contrary move, titling your record ‘The American Dream’ in a period during which that country is literally living a nightmare, but this is a record about a man seeing his surroundings newa. That might mean the rootsy, expansive ‘A Symphony Of Crickets’ – a rustic composition indebted to John’s extra circular Little Brother project – or the audio firework display that is opener ‘Autumn’, a firecracker of a song that captures all the wistful magic of the season from which it takes its name. These are songs that can only have been written by someone who has lived and who has the scar tissue to show for it.
‘The American Dream’ is a record in the lineage of The Gaslight Anthem’s ‘The ‘59 Sound’ or (back to Craig Finn) The Hold Steady’s ‘Boys And Girls In America’. It’s not a carbon copy of either, but its spirit is shared. It’s a love letter to roadside diners, sitting in a car and driving very far in a very straight line for a very long time; the sort of romanticised rebel spirit that probably never existed, and which we all know from the movies. Oil and denim and Coke and electric guitars.
The record can be encapsulated by one of its best songs; a great song amongst a raft of really good ones. It’s called ‘Something Bigger Than This’ and it sums up the spirit of The American Dream perfectly. It’s the sound of five young men, stood at the foot of the canyon, screaming at the sky.
Strangely for a record made by a collection of Australians, ‘The American Dream’ is a record that serves as a timely reminder of America’s place at the nucleus of pop culture. And, that for all its current strife, its DNA remains the core building block within the obelisk of rock ‘n’ roll.