Personnel: Michael Vidal (vocals, guitar); Tabor Allen (drums).
As a member of the band Abe Vigoda, Michael Vidal had a hand in creating some seriously energetic and bright tropical punk. When the band split, he decided to take a very different route. Channeling some of the best sophisticated sounds of '80s U.K. post-punk groups like Felt, Durutti Column, and Prefab Sprout, to name a few, Vidal's debut album as a solo artist, Dream Center, is relaxed where Abe Vigoda was wacky, centered instead of barely under control, and more about the song than about the sound. Working with a small combo of guitar-bass-drums and keys, Vidal focuses on small moments of heartbreak and disappointment, delivering introspective lyrics in a wobbly, heartfelt voice pitched somewhere to the left of Edwyn Collins' croon. The subtle arrangements serve the songs perfectly, with a variety of vintage synths and borderline cheesy guitar effects providing waves of color. Borrowing as strongly as he does from a specific era, Vidal had to add some unique touches to the sound to make it more than just a pastiche, and he does a fine job throughout the short album. On "Dreams," he adds some pleasing soft rock textures, the bubbly guitars on "Correctional" have a bit of the tropical flavor Abe Vigoda was known for, and the interlocking waves of guitars and keys on "Sky Blue" are a nifty bit of acrobatics not too many bands could have pulled off in the '80s. Like any artist who successfully merges more than one decade, Vidal's album has a sound that's at once modern and nostalgic. He brings a very personal vision to it as well, then coats it all in a very intimate and warm feeling. The only complaint one might have with Dream Center is that it's too short. With two brief instrumentals, including the very Vini Reilly-inspired "Mono No Aware," in the track list, it's easy to finish the album and want more. More heart tugging songs, more of Vidal's touching vocals, and more of the impressively rich sound he and his band conjure up. There are worse problems to have, though, and despite that one tiny flaw, Dream Center is a very impressive debut. ~ Tim Sendra