Album Review: DREAM JEFFERSON – Manchester Blue
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Following up their first two hip-hop heavy EPs that showcased an electro-rock edge, Ottawa-turned-Toronto quartet DREAM JEFFERSON have crafted a much more pop-hook-laced offering on their third EP Manchester Blue.
Forgoing the seven song standard established by their first two EPs, Manchester Blue features four tracks that steer much more towards a pop influence, showcasing many more traditional pop hooks, extended singing sections, and riff-ier guitar and synth (yes synth) than were previously showcased – but rest assured, anything you may have loved in earlier DREAM JEFFERSON offerings is still hear in spades: witty wordplay, catchy riffs, pop culture references, and the not-so-subtle nods to British-isms (both in the title itself, and in included voiceover samples – though sadly Moss of t.v. series THE IT CROWD doesn’t promise us the ride of our lives this time out).
That’s not to say this couldn’t still happen though…
The four-track release opens with The Grove: a spoken-word intro from a Golden-era Hollywood film, backed by a slow build before the song drops into place with a new wave-style guitar riff. DJ frontman Owel Five jumps in with his typical rapping flair, but when the chorus rolls around he and female vocalist Tovah Fine uncharacteristically duel-sing the lyrics.
Likewise, rather than just the typical loops from their first two EPs, production master Corboe takes on a secondary synth role throughout the release, while guitarist/vocalist Ian Strasbourg also adds his own new wave picking flair to the mix.
Fittingly, after an Owel/Fine rap vocal opening, second song Sad Girl sees frontman Owel Five taking on a much more prominent singing role as he and Fine recount a tale of love and loss.
Fittingly, after an Owel/Fine rap vocal opening, second song Sad Girl sees frontman Owel Five taking on a much more prominent singing role as he and Fine recount a tale of love and loss. The first really noticeable thing on this outing – other than Owel’s singing, I mean – is that Fine gets a lot more prominence on the release this time around, further solidifying her role in the band (as she was absent on their first EP Sasquatch Bury Their Dead and felt slightly shoehorned into second EP Punch Perm).
This is easily evident with her prominent featuring on third track Hannah, but also in how often she and Owel Five double up on the verse vocal sections of the track, as well as in noticeable segments of other songs – this is probably also much easier to arrange now that Owel is singing in places with a fuzz effect rather than the straight rapping he’s been known to do in the past.
New Gates, which closes out the release, is definitely a clincher worthy of the final slot on the EP: with a repetitive four-note guitar pick and an infectious lyric line “new gates burning in the corners of her smile” once again inspired from a piece of British pop culture as it brings the release to a close with the sampled voice clip in question.
You’ll notice throughout Manchester Blue there are little hints that harken back to some of the band’s earlier tracks – in particular, New Gates features a shouted “Hold that thought, give me a minute” that emulates the “Hold that thought, give me a second” from fan favourite Danger Room off their last EP Punch Perm.
Overall, the production on the EP is their tightest yet – with Corboe in the production seat alongside frequent DREAM JEFFERSON mastering engineer Chris Sampson – and they’ve managed to work their craft even better than before this time around. While Sasquatch featured a slight raw-ness to the sound of the album, and Punch Perm had a slight over-production noticeable in some of the electronics, Manchester Blue seems to have found the perfect balance of the two as it fazes back and forth between the two extremes when needed yet maintaining a smooth central balance that carries the album through to its conclusion.
If you’ve never heard of DREAM JEFFERSON, now’s the time to get on board – I may be overstating here, but with enough consistently good material under their belts now for a full length (by consistent, I really mean ALL OF IT IS CATCHY AS HELL), and an energetic live show that could possibly rival much larger arena acts if they had the budget to back them, it’s really only a matter of time before Toronto’s monopolistic hold on the four-piece is broken.