Wednesday, June 10th, 2020

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Dreamsicle

Not a Dumblonde cover…


Scott Mildenhall: By the sounds of it, a Dreamsicle is what you zany Americans call a Solero. Imagine what a song with that name would be like! Well, as luck would have it, Dutch rapper Jairzinho released one this very year, and it is instantly catchy, on top of hitting all the rhythmic and lyrical beats you might expect. Needless to say, Jairzinho’s is a world without subtext, one in which all fruits are sweet, and all sweets are women. Where he slides casually into one grim cliche of male adolescence, Isbell delves into a much more nuanced one; one within which expression and comprehension is still just out of reach. Neither saccharine or bitter, he brings forth a sense of confusion dulled by the treadmill. Until he reaches the far-off point at which he can make changes for himself (of which he is yet semi-cognizant of the ramifications), it will all just keep going.

Edward Okulicz: Reminiscing about an obviously broken childhood — broken as in interrupted by transience — is easy fare for country-adjacent singer-songwriters like Isbell. Viewing it through the lens of an ice cream is a lyrical masterstroke, and the song has some really clever imagery, saying a lot with a few words. The effect is disarmingly lovely.

Katie Gill: The combination of guitar, piano, and violin sounds almost effortless in its construction, and there’s strength in its simplicity. The music is so gorgeous, in fact, that it’s almost easy to miss the heartbreak of the lyrics. Each stanza has one or two lines that are a slight punch to the gut, a moment where you can’t help but whisper “oh, yikes.”

Ryo Miyauchi: “Dreamsicle” plays with how the country-song cliche of hometown comfort typically sounds: pastoral, idyllic, communal. But as reliable and familiar as the music remains, it’s bittersweet to hear Jason Isbell realize how that warmth starts to feel anonymous once he moves from community to community. His lament blends in a little too well with the pleasant scenery, though it’s an affecting enough sigh.

Katherine St Asaph: Isbell is an good lyricist, but at least here he’s more satisfying to read than listen to. If the lyric is a Dreamsicle, it’s one soaked in bile, with a splintering stick; while the story beats and images mostly aren’t original, they’re at least well-deployed. (Maybe I’m just overly impressed because Nashville’s bar for lyrics is not currently high.) But the arrangement is the usual kind: bland, palatable nostalgia, the kind that makes the past feel not heightened but flattened into bygones.

Tobi Tella: Nostalgia is an easy play for sympathy, and my mean critic brain is programmed to see through it, but damn if this isn’t tragically beautiful. It perfectly captures the strange extremes of being a kid, the days on end spent doing nothing but playing and relaxing, contrasted with the strange and depressing feeling of a broken family when you’re too young to understand what being broken means.

Alfred Soto: He tries avoiding the same rhymes, turns the hook on its head, makes the unexpected titular metaphor signify, and it works. Behold the virtue of Jason Isbell sticking with this kind of songwriting.

Steacy Easton: This is my favourite of the new Isbell singles, and a song I have listened to again and again. You can tell he was inheriting from Prine, in the banality of the image and the quotidian melancholy of that melted Dreamsicle, and “poison oaks to poison ivy, dirty jokes that just went by me” is the best line Isbell has written. If you listen to the great country songwriters he is emulating — Prine, Tom T. Hall, Jerry Jeff Walker, Willie Nelson — they could all be light, or funny, or both, as the situation called. But Isbell’s music is seldom light; I know that he can be funny, but he sure hasn’t been on a record. “Dreamsicle,” though, does have a lightness, which prevents this kind of fucked-up daddy song from being too heavy. (All of those songwriters are also white men, and in an age of Nashville misogyny and women’s backlash, the boyishness of this song should be noted.)

Alex Clifton: Sweet and bitter, avoiding the nostalgia trap of painting all memories with a rosy hue. Youth has so many beautiful moments as well as stinging heartbreaks, and somehow this song evokes both senses without much cognitive dissonance. John Prine may have left us, rest his soul, but we’ve got someone else to carry his storytelling torch.

Reader average: [5] (2 votes)

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One Response to “Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Dreamsicle”

  1. Terrific writing by everyone.

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