From its very first words to its album artwork, Silver Torches’ Let It Be a Dream conjures imagery and sentiments of the Rust Belt towns that American progress left behind. Over the course of 33 minutes, Let It Be a Dream cycles between hope and hopelessness, but it carefully avoids saccharine bouyancy or downtrodden despair. It’s an album for a nation divided by income gaps and differing political ideologies.
There’s angry complacency in the opening, title song. Erik Walters, Silver Torches’ prime mover, sings, “But in life, nothing comes easy/You say talent outweighs luck/You get ahead by knowing who you know.” By the song’s conclusion, the repeated phrase “Let it be a dream/I’ve been waiting all my life for someone to come set me free” holds cautious optimism for a brighter future.
The album is Walters’ follow-up to last year’s Heatherfield, and to round out its folk-rock sound, he enlists a full band, including bass, drums, guitar, percussion, piano and synthesizers, plus local luminaries Noah Gundersen, Abby Gundersen and Courtney Marie Andrews on backing vocals. At times producer Andy Park’s keys drive the album, encompassing the mood of a muggy summer evening, aided by Greg Leisz’s hazy pedal steel. At other moments, like “Keep the Car Running,” the music confidently charges forward with driving, upbeat melodies.
Walters’ character-driven songwriting sheds light on America’s inequalities and need for restoration. He offers no cure for the country’s heartaches, but he lends a helping hand—and warns us off the whisky. In “At the Lantern,” he later finds a source of light: Backed by piano, strings and synths, Walters searches for meaning amid the mundane routines of everyday life, confident that there’s a better way to live. Spurred to action, the singer grows tired of feigning happiness and opts to chase it instead.
The album reaches an emotional high in penultimate song “Nothing to Show,” Walters’ duet with Andrews, confronting the fear that years of hard work may amount to nothing. Closing song “Bartender” chronicles a drinker’s decision to drive home after one too many. Chillingly, the album fades out with wailing sirens, which Walters and Park captured from outside the apartment where they recorded the album.
Let It Be a Dream lives in the uncomfortable space between imaginary life and reality, contrasting the American dream with the difficulty of achieving it. The people in Walters’ songs are often caught between passivity and action. They long for some kind of catalyst to save them from stagnation, but when they attempt to change their lives, the next chapter remains just out of reach. Still, they keep the car running, foot hovering over the accelerator, in case an escape route appears.