Kestrels – Self-Titled LP Review

kestrels

Described as a Canadian noise-pop trio, Kestrels are releasing their self-titled, third album on September 30th via Sonic Unyon records. Despite a wealth of references listed in the band’s press release, the first band that springs to mind when giving the album a spin is the late, lamented Seafood whose album, ‘when do we start fighting’, remains a priceless example of dynamic alternative rock. Add in hints of white-hot, early-Sonic Youth guitar fury and it’s clear that Kestrels have tapped into the independent ethos of the mid-nineties alternative set perfectly whilst adding some sonic flourishes of their own, ensuring that this is no mere exercise in revisiting the past. Available on both CD and super-limited (gorgeous) vinyl, from the off this is a record that music fans will want in their collection.

The album gets off to a flying start with the frazzled art-rock of ‘No alternative’. With blistering, hyper-speed guitars and ethereal vocals, the song instantly gets the adrenal glands flowing and it’s been a while since I’ve heard a band attack what might, nominally, be called shoegaze with such ferocity. The band maintain the pace with the bruising ‘descent of their last end’ which throws distorted bass and sparking feedback into the mix whilst managing to keep a firm grasp on the essential melody that grounds the song. The churning groove of ‘Are you alone’ has a Dinosaur Jnr vibe with lush vocal harmonies wedged between layers of reverb-laden guitar. It is pop music, sure, but the cut and thrust of the guitars hides a razor’s edge surface-deep under the sweetness and you’ll cut yourself if you get too close. It’s not all sugar-rush noise, however, and ‘Lying down’ sees the band slow the pace a touch, drawing on the sweet, psychedelic nuances that powered ‘Gish’, Chad Peck’s vocal drifting amidst a gossamer web of guitars that strain and break as the track careers towards its conclusion. The first half of the record concludes with the glistening potential single ‘Suspect’, which is predicated on a pummelling beat from Paul Brown, whose performance shifts from tight control to Animal-esque spazz-out in a heartbeat.

The second half of the album kicks off with the Ash-infused pop beauty of ‘Wide eyes’ which harks back to the days of ‘1977’ with its phased guitars and irresistibly hummable melody. Short and sweet, it is superseded by the awkward guitar contortions of ‘Neko’, a dark track with Devin Peck’s bass simmering under a blanket of guitars that bide their time before exploding like fireworks in the night. ‘Waiting’ emerges from the feedback trail emanating from ‘Neko’ and picks the pace up with a whiplash beat and raging guitar riff. Short and to the point, it vanishes in under two minutes only for the listener to be rocked by the multi-coloured detonation of the perfectly-titled ‘ace’. A perfect example of a crackling pop song buried under tightly wound coils of noise and scruffage, ‘Ace’ is another track that would, in a perfect world, dominate the airwaves for months instead of the hyper-polished X Factor nonsense with which we have to contend at present. The album spins to an end with ‘Temples’, a song that’s split by a gorgeous breakdown that spreads like ripples on a pond before a wall of distortion brings the album to a bruising climax.

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In the latter half of the nineties, bands like Seafood, Urusei Yatsura, The Delagados and Sleater Kinney were busy reinventing the blueprint laid down by Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jnr, Pixies and their ilk. They were inventive, dizzying days and the music quietly broached the mainstream before seemingly evaporating on a stiff wind of nu-metal and manufactured pop at the turn of the Millennium. In recent years, however, there has been something of a resurgence of bands who deftly mix raging guitar fury and sweet melody and, at the forefront, stand Kestrels. This self-titled effort is a gorgeous, potent mix of frazzled, art-house guitar, sweeping harmonies and layers of noise, and deserves a place in any discerning music fan’s collection. 9

Find out more about Kestrels here.

Pre-order the beautiful gold-splatter LP here.

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