Peel Dream Magazine’s greatest strength and biggest obstacle is their ability to sound like all of your favorite bands. Anyone who is into this style of fuzzy, brainy indie rock will instantly recognize all of the classic influences: the sounds of Stereolab, Yo La Tengo, and My Bloody Valentine are all replicated on their second album, Agitprop Alterna, to a level of molecular detail. There is a studied, scientific quality to their songs; it’s obvious that songwriter Joe Stevens loves this style of music and has put a lot of thought into the formula that makes it work. Just to pull off this level of mimicry is an accomplishment in and of itself — if it was easy, more bands would do it.
But while the familiar, nostalgic sound of Peel Dream Magazine is what is going to draw listeners in initially, there is depth in Agitprop Alterna and a point of view that moves them beyond being just a hollow copy of superior bands. Compared to their first album, Modern Meta Physic, this one embraces a wider range of sounds and textures, covering almost every angle of their specific obsessive influences. Stevens is the primary instrumentalist, usually playing some noisy guitar or organ with some softer drones mixed in. Singer Jo-Anne Hyun plays a more pivotal role on this album, adding another instrument to the mix and playing off Stevens’ lower register in a way that is reminiscent of those same aforementioned bands that are hard not to mention in every sentence.
The reference points are all boiled down to a series of concise 2-3 minute songs that show Stevens’ skill at crafting the low-key melodies that were the core of all the bands he loves. The opener and lead single, “Pill,” sets the tone as a relentless, tight burst of energy and noise with a catchy, abstract chorus. Throughout the album, Stevens not only captures the familiar sounds, but also that blend of immediacy and intangible strangeness that is so hard to replicate. Songs like “Brief Inner Mission” and the closer “Up and Up” show a softer, pillowy side of the band, leaning into the gentler side of psychedelic pop exhibited by bands like Broadcast.
Most of the songs feel more meditative and internal, but a couple like “NYC Illuminati” and “Emotional Devotion Creator” are pointed criticisms of people who aren’t genuine and “stand for nothing at all.” In those songs, the perspective of Peel Dream Magazine crystallizes a bit. This is not an original band, or an innovative band, but in every song I feel there is a genuine appreciation for the music that inspired them, and a concerted effort to do justice to those heroes in a very uncynical way. Stevens accepts his place in this lineage of music and is smart enough to not try too hard to modify a sound that has already been proven and perfected. Agitprop Alterna can function as something of a meta-album, one that is a worthwhile piece of music itself while also being a celebration of the other bands that inspired it.