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Album Reviews

Crazy Doberman Casts Long and Dreamlike Shadow

Artist: crazy doberman
Album / Label: hypnagogic relapse and other penumbral phenomena / Digital Regress
Rating: ??/10

Ed. ~ This is not a typical album review, as this music operates on dream logic and defies most rational explanations. Also, since this album is so dream-like and hallucinatory, PV’s review doesn’t cover much of the actual sounds within the album, but rather focuses on recounted dream stories that he believes best summarizes the experience of listening to it. This is unconventional, of course – but with him, it could only be so.

I had my first nightmare when I was four years old.

I was standing in the backyard looking at the tree near our fence. I remember that everything in the dream was in black and white, but I was in color. I looked down at a patch of grass near the tree and saw a hand. Instinctively, I knew it was my hand, though I knew not how or why.

My left hand was cleanly severed at the joint – not in a bloody mess as a real hand would be, but a clean break. It was as though my hand had become a separate entity unto itself. I looked down at my hands, but they were both there. I looked again, but this time one hand was black and white, and the other hand was missing. I looked at the hand on the ground again to find it in color. Thus ended the dream.

Being so young, I didn’t think much about this dream until later in life. There’s quite a bit I’ve repressed from my childhood, which was fraught and turbulent in several complex and particular ways. I’m sure this dream, a simple enough but somewhat troubling document of my early mental state, was a foreboding sign of things to come.

Then again, as the years pass, I can’t remember if I recall this dream correctly. It may be that I’m making it up, and have incorrectly memorized a fictional version of events – which may be a more terrifying eventuality in itself.

Dreams can be frightening business.


My little brother once dreamt that there was a cow in his room. He was even younger than I was when I had the hand dream; he would’ve been about two or three.

The dream was fairly simple: my little brother awoke and found himself unable to move. (He now believes that this was a case of sleep paralysis.) His room was otherwise normal, except for the very large cow. It scared him profoundly; he cried and cried. We still tease him about it.

Dream interpretation suggests that the appearance of a cow symbolizes prosperity, well-being and a quiet life. To a child of two or three, however, the cow holds no symbolic weight, and its extremely literal presence must be terrifying. Like a child (and unlike the kings and pharaohs of Biblical lore), I set little to no store by the interpretation of dreams. Some things aren’t meant to be understood.


I have a few friends who can lucid-dream. It’s a remarkable ability to control your dream while dreaming it – one might argue it takes considerable imagination. Though I’d like to think I’m quite creative in my waking life, in slumber I am simply unable to manipulate the events of my dreams.

However, I recall one instance when, as if by accident or magic, I was able to lucid-dream. I was in college then, and I remember I first realized I was dreaming while standing at the bottom floor of the student union at my college. I decided to fly up the building instead of taking the escalators, and I hovered above the floor and up through the student union.

I flew through my small, somewhat idyllic college town to a local diner. However, upon entering, I was quite taken aback to discover that the once-familiar decor had taken on a decidedly surrealist bent in my dream. Indeed, there were no tables, booths or chairs – only a large chalkboard with the menu scratched onto it, and a long counter with a sour-looking old woman behind it. As I flew in and the door closed behind me, she glared at me and shouted “WHAT DO YOU WANT?”

I was so taken aback at the shock of these developments that, in the dream, I shouted “I don’t know!” – and, according to my roommate, also did so in real life as I awoke with a start. I had exerted such a degree of control over my dream as to existentially terrify not only my waking self, but my dream self.

I’ve never been able to lucid-dream since, and am not particularly eager to try again. I still don’t know what I want; from what little I saw, that much seems clear.


Four months ago I dreamt I was in the gymnasium/auditorium of my old middle school, where a somewhat unconventional musical was being performed. The show was a flow of continuous movement. There was a narrator who led the songs and dance movements. The audience, rather than sitting and watching the show, was led around the room with the cast, singing and dancing along. 

My dream self did not know the melodies or words to the songs, but found the flow of the movements to be simple and natural. I had joined the dance spontaneously, which had seemed a right and natural thing to do in the dream.

We finished a song and then all laid down as the narrator delivered a monologue about looking up at the stars. I recall that my estranged father was there. (In the dream, my feelings toward him were neutral.) He was enjoying the show, and as he walked up to us I thought he was going to join the dance.

He walked up to a little girl – she must have been six or seven years old, dancing along on the fringes of the group – and whispered something into her ear. It didn’t seem out of the ordinary, whatever he’d said. He then left the auditorium. At this juncture, I felt that he was getting ready to leave, which meant I’d have to leave with him (I’m not certain how old I was in the dream). In the middle of the next song and dance, he called my name, the way he always called up the stairs to tell me it was time for dinner when I was a child.

As I left, I walked up to the little girl to ask her the name of the musical. She looked at me and said three words: “R_______ _____ _______.”

For the life of me, I cannot recall what the title of the musical was in my dream. I’m certain that the name must have been important to me subconsciously; otherwise, the information would not have been presented with such significant preamble. All I remember was that the title was three words, the first word began with an R, and the second word was shorter than the other two.

At any rate, I said the title aloud to myself, and she repeated it again (hence why I believe this information was important). I thanked her and left as she rejoined the dancers. And the dream ended.

This one was a doozy. Beyond its symbolic motifs and peculiar specificity, the events psychologically deconstructed by this dream appear to be of considerable import. Specifically, the information presented within the title of the musical – three fateful words – was so emphasized as to suggest an undue significance to my waking and sleeping lives.

However, I’ve tried and tried to recall the words, and I just can’t do it. Perhaps, thanks to my failure to discover this terrible secret, my life shall never fall into cosmic balance. Or – even worse to consider – perhaps the three words are entirely irrelevant, and this once hopeful exit is no escape from the blank, faceless chaos of life.

At any rate, I’ve not had a dream like that in some time. To be honest, I’m thankful. Sleep is a welcome respite from the often fraught theater of the mind.


Below is a dream story recounted by a friend.

The dreams that really mark you are clear and unclear in a way nothing else can be. I was a kid–four, five?–but no date or specifics remain. I never slept on the top bunk, or I never slept on the top bunk after that. Piles of animals, blankets, pillows, it was soft, safe. I didn’t sleep there, laid awake in the cushioning, liminal space. 

I wasn’t asleep, wasn’t quite awake. Through the mound of plush it wormed its way. Tactile sensations aren’t dreams, they’re real. Yellow-gloved hands have a feel, distinct. I know how it feels to be grabbed, how it felt to have that large hand on my torso. And how it felt by contrast to be released, how my feet felt hitting the floor and running down the hall. There was nothing in my bed, no one in my room. Both bunks were empty. Maybe I slept in there after. Maybe I didn’t sleep that night. Somehow I got back into a routine, felt safe in my room. But the feel of the touch remained.

There was a big window, man-sized, right beside my bed. I don’t think I ever opened that window in 18 years. I don’t think it even had a lock on it.


I’ve taken to listening to hypnagogic relapse and other penumbral phenomena at bedtime. For the sounds therein occupy the liminal space of dreams, the land between sleeping and waking.

The sounds wash over me, and I close my eyes, remembering the strangeness of my dreams and their eerie logic. My mind drifts off into a shadowy otherworld where the events of my dreams are logical and easily explained. The dreams cross over from the dark recesses of my consciousness, escaping like plumes of smoke up into the aether. Somewhere in the astral mist, a voice like God’s whispers in the spaces between the sounds, murmuring those three words I cannot remember over and over and over.

Somehow, in just over half an hour, crazy doberman – the finest free jazz ensemble in the Midwest or anywhere – manages to reach deep into the inner workings of my psyche and pry all this out effortlessly. I can’t explain why (or how) each song works, or what it sounds like. There are instruments and moments I recognize – when voices begin to rise out of the mix during the twenty-eight incarnations, for instance. But the album, an instant classic and bracing listen in a discography full of them, is unreadable in its ephemerality. It operates on the logic of your dreams and mine.

I still don’t fully understand what I’m hearing or why it has this effect on me. And while hypnagogic relapse and other penumbral phenomena is one of the finest albums I’ve heard this year or any year, a rating simply can’t do it justice. Would you rate a black hole out of 10? Could you?

Somewhere in the shadowy Midwest, crazy doberman have created not so much an album as a dark and cryptic exploration of the shadows within the self. It stands outside of time, just beyond understanding, just out of the light. Wait until darkness to put it on. Close your eyes, slip into a dream, and discover its secrets for yourself.

Image credit: Chris Lutzko

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