To live inside Trevor Sensor‘s mind for a week or even just a day would be an unforgettable experience. The 23-year old’s first two EPs were met with critical acclaim for his clever yet biting wordplay and old-school folk-rock approach. Yet his real life is also filled with memorable moments, such as his “near-death experience” at SXSW in 2016. The Illinois native is a gifted storyteller and among the very best today, and his debut full-length, Andy Warhol’s Dream, validates his status and then some.
Echoes of Dylan, Van Morrison, and even The Beatles reverberate throughout the record’s 11 songs. Sensor’s inspiration, however, isn’t found in these great songwriters, but in the iconic pop-art artist after whom the LP is named. The album artwork, for instance, is a nod to Warhol in two ways. First, it is akin to the sketches Warhol made of the male body, as the artist was long infatuated with men’s chest and torso. Second, the image is akin to a photograph Warhol had taken when after he was shot. The scars on Sensor’s abdomen are akin to those on Warhol’s body. Beyond the imagery, the album’s focus on fame and celebrity, death and second chances, and manufactured appearances are akin to the themes Warhol painted throughout his career. Andy Warhol’s Dream, in other words, is Sensor’s art installation, and it is brilliant and awe-inspiring.
“High Beams” kicks things off with its ’70s folk-approach that features some superb piano and guitar work. The rousing soundscape provides the ideal canvas for Sensor’s description of the “American dream”. It is the obsession with wealth and fame, and how such a belief can consume us no matter the odds. In his own way, Sensor has crafted a protest song, but his target is the same as Warhol’s – people’s obsession with pop culture and the worshiping of celebrities. “We’re bounded by high deeds and greatness. Yeah greatness and a kiss of grandeur. Oh brother, I’m tired and I don’t want to do this anymore.”
On the Dylan-esque “On Your Side”, Sensor masterfully depicts a person’s conversation with Judas, and his inability to convince Christ’s twelfth disciple of another direction. Is this Sensor’s way of indicating the influence of religion on society or just a familiar story he’s re-imagining? On “Andy Warhol’s Dream” and “In Hollywood, Everyone is Plastic”, there’s no questioning Sensor’s aim.
“Andy Warhol’s Dream” is a splendid, The Beatles-esque ballad. Its simple piano intro flourishes into a grand, dazzling piece at the bridge, just like the Fab Four did. And as he hollers, “You could be my little submarine because everyone wants to be in a magazine”, images of Warhol’s artwork for The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” come flooding into mind. His message, though, isn’t about describing one of Warhol’s most famous works, but once again people’s obsession with the glitz and glamour and how even the most simple image or accomplishment can have the masses excited. On the Van Morrison-esque “In Hollywood, Everyone is Plastic”, much like Warhol conveyed through this Campbell’s soup cans and pastel portraits, Sensor articulates how the individual and her dreams die in Tinseltown and in its place is someone unrecognizable.
On the arguably the album’s highlight, “The Money Gets Bigger”, Sensor again focuses on the American dream. His lyrics are powerful, witty, and insightful, as he tells two stories within the song. On the one hand, the song is an observation of what America has become, where greed has consumed American values and the few benefit while the majority suffer. On the other hand, Sensor takes on the persona of a person trying to become someone of importance in a world lacking in substance. He subtly asks whether a person can be something in a place of insignificance. It’s a clever question to ponder, particularly during these uncertain times.
Everything, of course, comes with a price. The crowd-pleasing “The Reaper Man” is a dance with the devil. It is, in other words, people selling their souls and waiting for the day repayment must be made. Sensor wickedly sings:“I have spent sleepless nights dreaming of the day that he’ll come and take us down”. On the intimate and beautiful “It Wasn’t Good Enough”, Sensor is reflective and even contemplative. It is the song of man who has failed and lost everything. It is his apology to those he has hurt and left behind. The song is Dylan-like in its delivery, sound, and honesty.
Then there is “Sedgwick”, which is the album’s hardest-hitting song. Musically, it’s assertive, raging like a modern-day blend of indie rock and folk-rock. The slow build led by the reverb-trenched guitar and pounding piano keys resonate with the power of My Morning Jacket and Wilco. Lyrically, Sensor delivers a remarkable number, as he tells a story through the eyes of two people. One is a man who yearns for a woman, and the night they spent together. The other is one of the woman’s children, who witnesses the man assaulting his mother. So what side is true? That question describes the brilliance of “Sedgwick”, as Sensor challenges us to remember that reality is dependent on one’s perspective.
Challenging is a way to describe Andy Warhol’s Dream. Musically, the album takes listeners back to the days when Dylan and Van Morrison were radio stars. Clean guitar riffs, tantalizing steel guitars, groovy rhythm sections, and uplifting pianos and organs fill the air. It is all classic. But like Warhol, his music is much more complex than its vivid sounds. To truly appreciate his imaginative songwriting and the complex messages and questions he conveys, one must invest the time to listen and understand. Only then can this masterpiece of an album be enjoyed and Sensor’s brilliance be celebrated.
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