Kestrels – ‘Dream or Don’t Dream’

By Ellie Odurny

Hailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Kestrels are back with their fourth full length release ‘Dream or Don’t Dream’. It’s been four years since their self-titled third album was released, with singer / guitarist Chad Peck bringing in Michael Catano on drums and featuring Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis as a guest on lead single ‘Grey and Blue’.

‘Dream or Don’t Dream’ was recorded primarily on vintage gear and mixed by production stalwart John Agnello, using over 100 guitar pedals and tape delays to create the sonic effects running through the album. This sense of retro warmth is evident straight away on opening track ‘Vanishing Point’, with big strummed chords and crashing symbols fading almost too quickly to the clean, simple, shoegazey vocals that have been a key element of Kestrels’ sound for over a decade.

This consistency of the production across the record courtesy of the mixing from Agnello and mastering from Greg Calbi ensures a uniform sound from start to finish. Perhaps too much so, with some tracks merging so seamlessly into the next it’s hard to tell them apart. There’s a lovely little instrumental bridge towards the end of ‘Don’t Dream’ which somehow manages to blend its way into ‘A Way Out’ without really missing a step. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just adds an element of blandness to an album that otherwise displays some clever writing, recording and skilful solo work.

J Mascis’ contribution to ‘Grey and Blue’ is a prime example of the successful collaboration between original nineties alt rock talent and modern mixing, with soaring guitar solos elevating the sound and creating a sense of liberated freedom from the myriad of layered effects. Catano’s drumming also shines on this track, with moments of upbeat excitement picking up the pace between the fuzzy vocals in the verses. This is a track that belongs on a roadtripping playlist for cruising down a long highway in a convertible with the wind in your hair.

Apparently, Peck began writing ‘Dream or Don’t Dream’ when he was staying on the couch of friend Tim Wheeler, front man of nineties UK favourites Ash. There are plenty of moments throughout the album that certainly feel as though they’ve been imbued with those retro indie rock vibes, with the simple harmonies, fading distortion and sporadic note bending guitar solos indicative of the seminal bands of that era. ‘It’s a Secret’ in particular could easily have soundtracked the youth of the millennial generation, and the intentionally off tune, reverb dripping vocals and foot tapping rhythmic riffs of ‘Dalloway’ sound like they came straight out of The Bronze in an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. There almost feels like there’s also a hint of the industrial genre that was gaining popularity at that time, with the clashing chords and drawn out drone-like vocal sections of ‘Dalloway’ not entirely dissimilar to the melodic vocal line in ‘Shock’, the opening track of metal band Fear Factory’s 1998 release ‘Obsolete’.

It’s these little moments of texture and unexpected elements that save ‘Dream or Don’t Dream’ from becoming a mediocre release, an inoffensive but uninteresting nod to a previous era of power pop infused alt rock. The lead guitar consistently lifts the basic song structures to a more rousing level in tracks like ‘Everything is New’ and ‘Feels Like the End’, and all those effects pedals add a subtle complexity to the album that takes a couple of listens to fully appreciate.

If you’re after a brand-new sound and ground breaking song writing, then this might not be the record for you. But if you want to go on a dreamy nostalgic journey down memory lane, recounting carefree summer moments from the turn of the millennium, then stick on ‘Dream or Don’t Dream’ and immerse yourself in recollections of good times gone by.


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