Over the last couple months, the New York psych-rock band Peel Dream Magazine released a string of excellent singles, beginning with “Pill” back in January and continuing on through “Emotional Devotional Creator” and “It’s My Body.” All of this was building up to their sophomore album, Agitprop Alterna. That arrived at the beginning of the month, and the singles weren’t misleading — the whole thing is just as good as those early previews.
Peel Dream Magazine have a name straight out of some kind of ’90s art-pop scene in Europe, and the immediate comparison songs like “Pill” elicit would be shoegaze. But really, they’re putting that and krautrock and Britpop and psych-pop in a blender; a lot of their material sounds like Velvet Underground and Stereolab and My Bloody Valentine all at once, along with the bands that might occupy the connective tissue between them.
The shoegaze/dream-pop aesthetic is a tricky one to pull off. We’ve heard millions of nameless bands that had one or two immersive tracks to their name within the idiom, but you’d be hard-pressed to remember anything else about them. That’s why every shoegaze-derived or -adjacent sound always gets rooted back to the same bands; there’s only a handful that established the sound, and could really do something with that sound. It’s a difficult thing to sustain over the course of an album, but Agitprop Alterna does so exceedingly well — partially because of the music history they’re melting together, partially because so many of their songs are so damn memorable.
If you’ve already come across this band, “Pill” and “Emotional Devotion Creator” have probably already been stuck in your head for months at this point. But beyond that, Agitprop Alterna toggles between moods while never losing the alluring haze it establishes from the start. There are the little distorted storms of “Escalator Ism” and “Eyeballs” alongside floating daydreams like “Brief Inner Mission” and “Do It” alongside bleary, faded pop like “Too Dumb.” Alternating between strung-out and transcendental, the band has a way of perfectly balancing hooks and atmosphere no matter which form their songs take.
Peel Dream Magazine, like everyone else releasing albums in the first half of the year, should’ve been on the road promoting Agitprop Alterna. They are, obviously, unable to do that. That’s a disappointment, because the Peel Dream show I caught the week that “Pill” came out was really great; it’s also a problem for younger bands trying to get their names out there, stuck on hold right when they should be building momentum. Maybe there will be Peel Dream Magazine shows sometime later this year. At the very least, I hope people stumble upon Agitprop Alterna. It’s one of the best albums I’ve heard from an up-and-coming band this year.
In the meantime, bandleader Joe Stevens is taking to Instagram to perform via livestream, as many musicians are during the pandemic. Billed as the “first-ever solo” Peel Dream performance, Stevens will be playing some cuts from Agitprop Alterna starting at 5PM. I don’t know if anyone’s billed it as Peel Dream Quarantine yet, but if not they should do so. Check it out on the band’s Instagram.