As a male rock band, Kestrels follows in their self acknowledged musical influence’s footsteps closely. Their newest album Dream or Don’t Dream explores a 90s to early 2000’s pop-rock sound with shoegaze effects that turn catchy hooks into intriguing sonic experiments. Certainly, lead vocalist, songwriter, and guitarist Chad Peck made a successful choice to team up with mix engineer John Agnello in accomplishing an early 2000’s sound.
Building off the musical experiments of Sonic Youth, Alvvays and other alternative rock groups, Peck’s guitar solos and riffs as well as the dynamic percussion of Michael Cantano bookend this record with the high energy “Vanishing Point” and “Say Less.” When on the mission to find the emotional evocation of their music, it is found hidden within strong guitar lines and the tone of Chad Peck’s warming voice.
While sonically Dream or Don’t Dream fulfills a promise for a continued pop-rock sound in the year of 2020, do not begin listening to this record expecting the narrative of part-time English teacher Chad Peck to be told lyrically. At times, the lyrics of Kestrels’ new album are found lost in the soundscape of wailing guitars and crashing symbols. The band’s devotion to create a true rock album has made it challenging to find the vulnerability in Peck’s lyrical choices; however, the most successful songs on the record contain the ability to showcase both Peck’s skills as a guitarist and as the lead vocalist. Most notably, “It’s a Secret” and “Keep it Close” showcase a level of dynamic variation ranging from soft to loud that allows the audience a breath from the headbanging rock sounds for a moment to be left in solidarity with Peck’s vocals.
These moments of quieter introspection contrast the overall instrumentation of the album that lets the audience feel as if they are, if just for a second, allowed a softer version of Peck. These songs vary from pieces found in the middle of the album such as “Everything is New” or “Dalloway” which are performed as shoegaze anthems with unobtrusive vocals. Any fans of alternative pop-rock will appreciate the dedication to the genre’s founding principles. Even Dinosaur Jr., one of Kestrels’ musical influences, signed on to create various guitar solos for Dream or Don’t Dream culminating in the first single “Gray and Blue”.
While listening to this album through my car speakers, there was an energy that made me feel young and alive and transported me to a time when I was listening to my older sister’s 2000’s CD collection. I would have picked out Kestrels’ Dream or Don’t Dream with rainbows falling out of holes on the cover and tried on their crescendoing classic rock songs like a hand me down coat. Rock always intimidated me when I was younger, but the way Chad Peck approaches writing rock music settles my worries for the genre’s future. He handles guitar tracks and song structure with such emotional care and a sense of welcoming, which is not typical to find on many modern male rock records. For anyone who also enjoyed sneaking into their older siblings’ rooms to find new, edgy music, this album nourishes a nostalgic feeling of picking up what looks to be the coolest new album and saying “I’m stealing this.”
Listen to Dream or Don’t Dream on Spotify and follow Kestrels on all social media platforms.