Why PUP’s “The Dream Is Over” Should Win the Polaris Prize

dcfd2d8eby Chris Wheeler 

On June 30th I took a train from Toronto to Montreal to go to Osheaga with my friend Jeff who was driving from Halifax to Toronto after a splitting from his fiancée. Jeff and his partner had moved out there five weeks prior only to have the whole thing fall spectacularly apart. A comedy of errors resulted in Jeff and I not actually going to Osheaga.

On the drive from Montreal to Toronto (via Haliburton for some R&R) I said to Jeff, this is the best worst-case scenario. At least you know. Glass half full, right?

Exactly two weeks later on August 13th, I was married.

Sitting on the train to Montreal I was listening to PUP’s Polaris Music Prize shortlisted album The Dream Is Over thinking about Jeff and thinking about getting married and feeling guilty.

“If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You” is the title and first line of the first song. The line finishes, “Then I will” and is delivered with almost no menace but feels brutally honest. Suddenly, I’ve replaced the word “tour” with “move” and Jeff is narrating his story angrily (and maybe a little hyperbolically – who can blame him) through my headphones accompanied.

By the end of that first verse my stomach hurts. (“Counting down the miles ‘til we leave the state.”) Because “We” is “I” and the state is the province of New Brunswick (Jeff has been texting me at various intervals cursing the incalculable amount of trees in New Brunswick).

I’m counting down the minutes ’til I can erase
Every memory of you

Until this moment the lone guitar has acted as a very minimal backdrop. Soon the band is soaring while Jeff screams, “Why can’t we just get along?”

“Doubts” opens with a deluge of bass and Jeff’s tragedy has become fuel for all the uncertainty that now propels him inexplicably forward (“It keeps me awake and it keeps me alive”) to destinations known (“I can go home and rest easier now”) and unknown (“So what’s left to lose?”).

But being on the move (On “DVP”) and having purpose (getting the hell away) is a hollow experience without a light at the end of the tunnel and just now Jeff’s new world is as dark as the memories are vivid. (“I just don’t know what to do, I’m still fucked up over you.”). As an aside, “DVP” sounds exactly like what I imagine an alcohol-fueled trip down the DVP would feel like; exhilarating and very unwise. (“She says I need to grow up.”)

On “Old Wounds” to Jeff and his guitar are at their most belligerent and angry; the comforts of another relationship seem impossible. (“I’m bored of the games and bored of the chase. That’s the reason I left [Toronto] in the first place.”) Because much as he’d like to convince himself otherwise (“Don’t you know I’m over you?”), everything is still too fresh.

Eventually, on “My Life Is Over and I Couldn’t Be Happier,” Jeff starts to figure out that maybe his partner always sold him short (“Maybe I deserve more credit than you gave me”) and that maybe some of their problems were really her problems (“I bet you faked it all along”). And yet. (“I’m still waiting, I’m not moving on.”)

It’s been over a month since the wedding and my guilt persists. Not because of the different trajectories of our lives exactly because Jeff will be fine; he is loved and he has support and he is one of the most resilient people I know.

I feel guilty because this is cathartic. This unrelenting music feels good even though the protagonist/Jeff is suffering. The whole experience is unsettling and it is the same feeling I have when I listen to albums like Fucked Up’s David Comes To Life and Japandroid’s Celebration Rock. There is a timeless quality to angst and disillusionment that both transports me back to my high school days of soaring guitars and screaming front men and that grounds me in the present.

It is the latter that I feel is the most poignant. Disillusionment is a powerful motivator to seek answers and change from within or without. In spite of being and exactly because I am married and happy, there is a considerable need to take feelings of disillusionment and be able to channel them into some kind of transformative moment. Struggle, communicate, learn, release, and, in time, move on. Repeat

The Dream is Over is about release. Even in the smallest of moments, before we move on, release is about as much as we can ask for. And it’s asking a lot.

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