When asked to start something—a new volunteer position at WIDR, for instance—the first project being about endings is almost cosmically coincidental. Jake Simmons’ “My American Dream” is not necessarily melancholy and morose about its endings, though, so it’s no depressing kickoff. Most tracks were released as singles, but the thoughtful chords, vocals, and lyrics revolving around circa-COVID loss of relationships stand out better with the different quality. As a collection of thematically similar works, too, the tracks work best together. Meanwhile, the EP’s cover looks lovely when scaled up, but when tiny next to tracks or even on the Spotify page, the rainbow colors and detailed crunchy black create a visual soup that doesn’t feel like it relates to the topic at all. This sets the pace for the EP itself—there’s interesting, skillful work, restrained by a lack of change.
The titular track, “My American Dream,” lays the structural foundations for the positives of the EP. Clearly, Simmons closely studied ‘70’s rock, creating an anthem suitable for an open-air concert. Simmons’ brutal, wide-mouthed tone suits the protest style perfectly here. The guitar solos are brief and interesting, feeling punchy and powerful. However, the lyrics feel as though they have little to add to the conversation besides naming problems. Simmons drops “President Palpatine” at the end and laments bleach being suggested as medical treatment; he applies labels to make us mad, but doesn’t suggest a solution, like a protest song typically would.
The following three tracks take similar topics with similar positives and negatives. “Killing Me Slowly,” the second track, emphasizes the flaws of nostalgia, utilizing repetition to show this theme. It remains gloomy and musing with a simple but pleasing rhythm. While the verses are clear, the choruses are muddy, making a fantastical, floating atmosphere until it finally releases with the repetition of “killing me slowly” with gentle vocal backing. This, however, leaves the verses much more prioritized, for better or worse.
The album is not fast paced, but the third track, “Weeds,” slows it way down. Where “Killing Me Slowly” was 5:34 and I didn’t check the length once, by a minute in I was checking to see if “Weeds” was near finished. Perhaps, conceptually, this makes sense: “Weeds” is about having to explain the same concepts to people who refuse to learn. It still is a tad dull. The guitar solo achieves its annoyed, exhausted, exasperated content better musically rather than verbally. Despite this, I find it the most interesting song lyrically. Rather than listing off societal flaws, Simmons structures metaphors and calls to action, a personal favorite being “we’re not falling onto bad luck/someone put us here, we’re stuck.” Simmons effectively and quickly declares that what he laments is not a temporary issue, but rather built into the system. Particularly, he also juxtaposes imagery of poverty with wealth: “closer the sun better the tan/there’s no AC in the van.” This pits the privileged fetishizing of tanning, with all the free time it requires, against someone forced to live in their car, connected all by their proximity to the destabilizing nation characterized as heat. While “Weeds” is not necessarily my cup of tea, its best aspects stand out in a lacking space on the EP.
The EP closes with “Them and Them and Us Again.” Growing up on country, this stood out most to me as the antithesis to recent radio country anthems about how boldly conservative they are, and sounded most like something I’d hear on the radio and sing along to a decade or so ago. Simmons laments the fact he must be pitted politically against family and friends simply because they refuse to open their minds. I prefer this song’s nuance to others’ bluntness—while, truly, I’d love to cut some people out of my life for their views, it still hurts. As a closer, it lets out a long breath held through some of the more aggressive lyrics set in other songs. Despite all this unrest, it suggests what Simmons wants is for his targets to understand so they can treat him and everyone else like people with the respect they deserve.
The recording of “My American Dream” took place in 2020 despite its 2023 release, and conceptually it suits a mid- and post-COVID life. As a hardcore leftist myself, I am more predisposed to agree with Simmons’ pieces, but I doubt someone on the right side of the political spectrum could appreciate his tracks, unfortunately. For those who agree with Simmons, despite some sameness and corny lyrics, Simmons’ almost country-like EP provides great layers of ‘70’s rock-inspired enjoyment. Not rebellious enough to be punk but pissed in a common experience, its guitars, rhythms, and vocals stand out most, and Simmons doesn’t fail. The one thing it aches for is simply more variety.