Retrospective: Rediscovering DREAMCAR

The existence of DREAMCAR, the rock group featuring three-fourths of No Doubt and AFI’s Davey Havok, felt like a fever dream. They came out of nowhere, released one album, and disappeared. Did this happen, or did we make them up? As weird as it sounds, they were a thing. They popped up in 2017 for a summer fling before returning to their respective bands. Seemed like a one-and-done deal. Yet, out of nowhere, the band quietly reunited this year. Not only will they play Pasadena’s Cruel World Festival this weekend, but they also released a new three-song EP dubbed Dream. A DREAMCAR reunion wasn’t on my 2024 bingo card. Even stranger, they returned just as I rediscovered the band.

The return of sunny days and clear blue skies make me crave those feel-good albums. Ones tailor-made for road trips, lazy days at the beach, and late-nights under the stars. DREAMCAR’s 2017 self-titled debut perfectly fits this category. A blatant love letter to the new wave synth pop music of the 1980s, the album is filled with infectious hooks, catchy riffs, and vibrant energy. It’s impossible not to dance and sing when you listen to it. There are no complex concepts to follow. No weighty substance to the songs. It’s just a good time. And with the constant political strife, financial struggles, and bad news that permeates daily life, it’s something I’ve come to love about the album.

When Havok and (most of) No Doubt announced a new band together I was confused yet intrigued. I’m a fan of both bands, yet I had no idea what this new project would sound like. Goth-tinged ska? Melancholy hard rock? Emo-infused punk rock? The result arrived in the form of DREAMCAR on May 12th, 2017. And I was….underwhelmed. 40 minutes of 1980s-influenced songs that rip off Duran Duran, The Cure, and Power Station? It felt derivative. I’m a sucker for 80’s music, but we’ve been there, done that. Though I liked a handful of songs, the album seemed forgettable. Something I’d listen to a few times, then move on. But the band would creep into my consciousness over the years like an old flame I couldn’t shake.

For no reason, I’d start humming the hook of “All Of the Dead Girls.” I’d wake up with the blazing guitar riff for “After I Confess” looping in my head. Out of nowhere, I’d sing “Kill For Candy’s” “ooo-whoa-oh-oh” hook. It was non-stop to the point where I had to revisit the album – start to finish. Then I’d play it again. And again. And again. What I initially wrote off as pointless, I found charming, fun, and uplifting. Singing along with “Do Nothing” or sashaying to “On The Charts” quickly melted away whatever stress or anxiety I was feeling at the moment. For 40 minutes I could forget all my troubles and just have a good time.

The album is a nostalgic homage to the synthpop era of the 1980s that inspired the band. And that’s the beauty of the record. Sure, it sounds a lot like songs we’ve heard before. It’s easy to hear snatches of Tears For Fears and A Flock of Seagulls throughout the record. But that’s kind of the point. The band was upfront about what the album was: a love letter to the 1980s. That’s exactly what it is. It was a way for the band to pay their respects to an era they loved. It was also a creative outlet that allowed them to experiment outside of their normal genres. And they had a great time making the record. The songs are bouncy, energetic, and filled with an undeniable swagger thanks to a sassy Davey Havok. So, the album doesn’t break new ground. So what? Sometimes you want something you can sing and dance to without abandon. Something that just feels good.

Unfortunately, that carefree, energetic vibe I loved about their debut album is missing from the Dream EP. It’s a bit strange in that it doesn’t feel like DREAMCAR. Rather it feels like an amalgamation of Havok’s various side projects. Opening track “Torn Close” is the closest we get to the fun vibe of the debut album. It’s got a great hook, infectious ’80s synths, and Havok at his sassiest. Things take a turn with “We Rats,” which comes off more as later-era AFI mashed with Blaqk Audio. It’s not awful, yet not that exciting either. But after a few listens you’ll find yourself singing the hook. The EP closes with a cover of David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” and it’s…interesting. In a bold move, Havok switches between his singing style and a poor Bowie imitation. While ambitious, it’s a tad off-putting. Overall, the EP is fine but is lacking. It just doesn’t hit the same way as their debut LP.

Despite this, I’m happy that DREAMCAR is releasing new music. Hopefully, there’s more to come. Though I initially wrote off the band for their blatant rip-off of ’80s synthpop, this is what I now love about them. The album isn’t breaking new ground, but that was never the point. It’s supposed to be an homage to this influential era and they achieved that. Nostalgia is often frowned upon. After all, we should be looking ahead, not backward. The past stays in the past. But there’s nothing wrong with looking back now and then, especially if it’s something that makes us happy, makes us feel good. At the end of the day, DREAMCAR just feels good. And during a time when stress seems endless and everything kind of sucks, it’s the fun I sorely need in my life.

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Ashley Perez Hollingsworth

Ashley Perez is a freelance music journalist based in Chicago. Her work has appeared on AXS, Chicago Innerview, New City, The Millions, and Illinois Entertainer. She also runs her own music blog at Radio Not Found. Some of her favorite bands include Nirvana, The Cure, Muse, Creeper, and Green Day.

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