Dream Within a Dream is the new 7-inch single from pop savant Tristen, out this May via Louisville’s This Man Records. Crafted from Edgar Allan Poe’s classic poem, the single — like the mononymous singer-songwriter and musician known for her “knack for penning an infectious hook” (Entertainment Weekly) — marries complex, introspective lyrics with rollicking, jangly guitars.
Hailing from Nashville, Tenn.’s underground rock scene, Tristen has established herself as a prolific, versatile musician over the past decade, whether touring in Jenny Lewis’s Voyager band, collaborating and touring with artists like Vanessa Carlton and Robyn Hitchcock, or releasing three solo albums to critical acclaim. Her folk-oriented debut Charlatans at the Garden Gate (2011) earned her praise as “Nashville’s best-kept secret” (The Boston Globe), while 2013’s CAVES, co-produced by Stephen Hague, recast her as a “synth pop siren” (SPIN). Her most recent album, Sneaker Waves, released via Modern Outsider in 2017 was described by Rolling Stone as having “Nilsson-worthy power balladry,” while NPR’s Ann Powers called it “bursting with great melodies and hooky arrangements that tickle the ear and won’t leave your brain alone.” A serenade with a bite, Tristen's live band features her husband and collaborator, Buddy Hughen — who co-produced Sneaker Waves — on shredding electric guitar, in addition to a rotating cast of Nashville's finest as her rhythm section.
Tristen wields incisive, philosophical poeticism across her genre-bending catalog with an air of nonchalance. Seemingly-straightforward pop songs are never just that; there’s always a hint of some darker truth to which listeners can relate lingering just under the beguilingly jaunty surface. In playing with that duality, Tristen deftly examines — and at times finds humor in — the precarious fault lines that run through our shared human experience: our insecurities, our complicated relationships, our promised mortality and what we choose to do with our unpromised time.
“I believe a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,” she explains. “I tend to take more serious ideas and make them feel good on a song. I think art, above all, has a purpose to heal our sorrow and connect us to each other, our ancestors, or even to the idea we’ve created of ourselves.”
“I remember every bad thing that’s happened to me, but I don’t think that’s songworthy,” Tristen says. “I think songs should try to hit some relevant and universal feeling we all share, something bad that happens to everyone.” Sticking with that theme, Tristen’s new single “Dream Within a Dream” is the classic Edgar Allen Poe poem set to a 12 bar blues.
“There’s a reason why Poe’s ‘Dream Within a Dream,’ Thomas’s ‘Do not go gentle into that good night,’ and Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias’ remain classic,” she says. “They finger the wound of mankind, prodding at how mercurial this reality is, consciousness as participation in a shared reality, and how the sands of existence creep through all hands. It rhymes so beautifully. It had to be a song. I thought, perhaps it would be easier to remember these classics if they had a familiar musical background, like the 12 bar blues.”
In certain parts of New Orleans, funerals are cause for celebration, a second line of bodies dancing down the street to a cacophony of joyous music. Similarly, Tristen has a habit of turning death into a party, a reason to rejoice in our certain mortality and remember what it is we live for while we bide our time.