Dane Conover was San Diego’s answer to Prince, and I don’t mean that in a snide or sarcastic way. Under his “Trees” alias, Conover released just one album and played damn near everything on it, from the vocals and keys to guitar, bass, marimba, autoharp, Chinese cymbals and chimes. He even recorded the radio fuzz and “glass sliding door,” according to the credits. Producing credible work as a one-man-band is difficult today; it was even more so at a time when MIDI had yet to be introduced and producers required considerable technical knowledge and even more patience to make the nascent electronic machines work together.
The end result of all the Arp keyboards and Apple II programming, Trees’ album Sleep Convention was released in 1982. It sold poorly, and would be the only album Conover produced as Trees. Thirty-six years later, I found it in a stack of files a friend had sent me four or five years previously – mostly New Wave records from the 1980s by bands that, like Trees, burned brightly and briefly and were never heard from again.
But this one – I couldn’t put it down. Sometimes electric, sometimes psychedelic, sometimes even folky, Sleep Convention oozes with pop hits that never made it to the radio and would have been a knockout if they had. Conover flashes an incredible versatility given the album’s cloistered creation myth. Sleep Convention slides easily from uptempo amphetamine anthems like “11:00 AM” and “Come Back” to the heavy, moody synthpop of “Wildwood” (Conover recorded rain effects for it himself, naturally). “Red Car” is often cited by fans as a standout track: despite being something you can sing along with, it’s utterly unique: cowboy synthpop and a song for the lonely thermonuclear warrior written by a post-modernist poet, every word seemingly imbued with both an intense emotional power and the cool indifference of a man watching a world burn out of control.
The most versatile instrument Conover played was his voice: he could sound fittingly snotty, charmingly nerdish, vaguely British (on the maniacally addicting “Delta Sleep”) and, against type, shockingly serious (on, appropriately enough, the shockingly unserious “Shock of the New”). I can see why he did it all himself: because he could, and he could do it well, like few had even tried to do before on such a high level.
Some albums become cult favorites for spurious reasons, for personal reasons or just for sentimental reasons better held close to the listener’s heart. Here, I can see why so many people were so enthralled by this unloved masterpiece.
This was in August 2018. To my surprise, an outfit called Rubellan Remasters had just reissued Sleep Convention for the first time in 30+ years. Not only did they have Conover’s blessing, he supplied an additional 12 tracks, 10 of which had been planned for a second Trees album that was never made. No filler here: I held out little hope for the alternate versions of “Come Back” and “11:00 AM” after being disappointed in the past by similar releases, but they’re radical departures from the original record and present yet another fascinating angle to the multifaceted Sleep Convention. The remastered versions also sound better than the slushy pile of compressed crap my friend had provided me (I’ve never seen a copy of MCA Records’ original Sleep Convention release, which was massively bootlegged and pirated over the years).
The reissue is clearly a labor of love, which I think it had to be to give such a strange record a new life.
Trees: Sleep Convention / Rubellan Remasters
1. Trees: Come Back
2. Trees: Shock of the New
3. Trees: Delta Sleep
4. Trees: No Stranger
5. Trees: Midnight In America
6. Trees: 11:00 A.M.
7. Trees: Wildwood
8. Trees: India
9. Trees: Gotta Moon
10. Trees: Red Car
11. Trees: Come Back (ALTERNATE VERSION)
12. Trees: 11:00 A.M. (ALTERNATE VERSION)
13. Trees: Fire
14. Trees: Never Believe It
15. Trees: Searchin’
16. Trees: Runnin’ Wild
17. Trees: Devil On A String
18. Trees: Move On
19. Trees: Don’t Look In Her Eyes
20. Trees: In A Booth
21. Trees: Live Like you
22. Trees: Pandora’s Box