Multi-instrumentalist Justin Kass has spent the bulk of the last few years honing his skills keeping time and writing songs for several bands in the Santa Barbara scene. The longtime drummer, guitarist, and vocalist has released a total of eight albums as a part of various psych and rock groups, including Reef City, The Shorelines, and Killer Kaya, the latter of which is due for a new project this year. In each of his endeavors, Kass’ aptitude for expansive songcraft has helped fortify the sound of each outfit he has been a part of. Now for the first time, his artistic ambitions are being realized under the scope of solely his own hand and vision. His debut album, It’s All a Dream, out everywhere today, sees the SoCal native flex his shrewd rhythmic skill set while leaning hard into his deepest psychedelic influences, crafting a set of songs that liken to a luminous garden of trance and wonder.
First and foremost, Kass is a connoisseur of psychedelic sounds, a trait he makes known in the album’s early moments. The two-part title track, “It’s All a Dream,” melds cascading guitars and martial drumming into dreamy beach-grunge passages that also sport an orchestral flair. Whirlpools of oceanic instrumentation dominate the atmosphere, a distinctly Californian interpretation of something between jazz and pure psychedelic rock. Within this realm, Kass is fearless. His instrumental credits on the album range from lead guitar to keyboards to drums to harp. That prowess appears on full display during portions of “Valley of Love” and “Slow Motion,” where ascending rhythms and melodies layer onto each other to great climactic effect.
A recurring theme throughout each composition on the record, when not erupting into ambitious jams, Kass’ songs tend to drift into a more of a revolving flow state, one akin to the mind-numbing phase of an intense drug trip, where objects and noise reverberate against one another endlessly. Though instrumental excursions rule much of the album, when Kass appears vocally, it is to provoke thought through repeated refrains and stream-of-consciousness-style verses, while simultaneously reinforcing the record’s sprawling musical nature. On “The Light Shines Through” and the gorgeous closer “A New Beginning” he employs surreal phrases over driving grooves, chanting “surrender your mind” and “love is the only thing I believe in,” yet again reaching for his euphoria.
These simple idioms are direct meditations on the dichotomy of concepts unique to the human essence: reality and hallucination, love and hate, ego vs. selflessness. Through its entrancing existential lyrics, droning ambiance, and rich sound palette, It’s All a Dream evokes a sentiment that urges us to embrace the now in spite of the absurdity pervading the world around us.