Although Punk Talks, one of my favorite organizations, claims that “you don’t have to be sad to make great music,” good albums often come from an intensely emotional time. For TJ Maher of Ghost Town Remedy, “Caffeine Dreams” was written as a catharsis in the period after he lost his brother to suicide and father to cancer.
The band’s debut folk-rock record, written as something that TJ felt he had to do to “feel whole again,” feels like loss and redemption, like mortality and figuring out your place.
Each of the nine tracks on “Caffeine Dreams” has a distinct, bouncy twang. It’s thick, heavy classic rock, but folk influences and the occasional run of electric synth keep it from getting trite. The opening song, “Pepe Silvia,” has everything: pounding guitar, surprise screeching synth, and a metallic red color.
If every song was measured on a scale from folk to rock, the first half of the album has the slider moving closer to folk. “Satellite,” a response to death, wondering if someone is still watching over you, is a little more emo; it’s less intense in terms of guitar but not in lyrics. “River Runs Dry,” an acoustic track, follows, leaning even further towards that folk sound. The shift culminates in “Arrival/Departure,” full of warm, springy bird chirps and syrupy harmonies and not much else. From there, “Caffeine Dreams” slowly glides back to a classic-rock tone.
Despite dark themes, the album is undoubtedly catchy. Even slower songs get stuck in your head with smooth melodies and torn-up lyrics. “Waiting Room” is bouncy and driving with velvet-soft violin in the background, about being trapped and not knowing what your place is but that you’re here for a reason. Lyrics like, “When the darkness calls my name/I will leave this path I’ve paved” stand out.
It’s difficult to get through a loss. When two of my well-loved teachers passed away this year, the whole school was rocked. Both women had an immense impact on the school, leaving their students and strangers alike in complete shock. Even those who didn’t know either teacher were reminded of their own impending mortality. In this way, “Caffeine Dreams” is undoubtedly cathartic, not just for Maher but for his listeners as well. It drives his grief home in both lyrics and sound – unfortunately relatable, but sometimes it’s nice to know that someone else understands.
“Caffeine Dreams” is undoubtedly cathartic, not just for Maher but for his listeners as well. It drives home the idea of grief in both lyrics and sound – unfortunately relatable, but sometimes it’s nice to know that someone else understands.