Liam Sternberg, Ohio’s answer to Phil Spector, produced the six tracks for Dream Sequence “in an aircraft hangar.” The Unknowns play pure ’60s garage rock with Mosrite guitars (displayed and mentioned on the cover for added authenticity), heaps of echo and tremolo, and incorporate various period genres (surf music, Creedence swamp choogle, psychedelia, punk) into their songs. Where Dream Sequence is slick but boring, The Unknowns shows them in greater command of their musical vocabulary and adds traces of the Animals, Yardbirds, Blues Project and the Doors to spice things up considerably. A rendition of Buddy Holly’s “Rave On” ties up a neat package of heavily stylized nostalgia.
After the Unknowns, singer Bruce Joyner formed the Plantations. Way Down South abandons the literal aspects of the Unknowns’ nostalgia for a more direct, unassuming sound that is still colored by weedy organ and other ’60s affectations. Some of the fourteen varied numbers are catchy and well-constructed; others drag. (Appearances aside, none of the music and only the occasional lyric is particularly reflective of the land below the Mason-Dixon line.) Joyner is moderately talented but needs stronger collaborators.
A few years later, a new set of Plantations (guitarist Dave Greene being the only holdover) joined Joyner for the seven-song Swimming with Friends, which also features guest shots by Steve Wynn, John Doe, Ray Manzarek, Stan Ridgway and Sky Saxon. As lively and exciting as a wax museum, the music is formally psychedelic in nostalgic intent, but stultifyingly bland, and made worse by Joyner’s vocals, which remain characterless despite liberal amounts of echo. The lurid lyrics to songs like “Deep Green Water” and “The Darkside of Your Brain” are right on the money, but nothing in the grooves fulfills the titles’ atmospheric promise.