When i first got this promo request, i was expecting some kind of hip-hop: perhaps dark and moody, or maybe dreamy and mystical. At least, that is what i think when i hear the phrase "Dreamers of the Ghetto". I was thinking an act influenced by Dalek or Diggable Planets.
But actually Dreamers of the Ghetto are a bunch of white kids from Bloomington, IN: two brothers, one brother's wife, and their buddy. And this music is not hip-hop in the least. Instead the band make epic, soaring rock music in the vein of U2, The National, or British Sea Power. There is a sort of bombasticness in their songs, a sort of largeness to the sounds they use. This is a band that thinks big, and seems to belong in front of massive crowds in large arenas.
Which makes their name all the more odd. The very word "ghetto" has become synonymous with rap. A search on Amazon reveals that the name comes from the title of a book by Israel Zangwill about Jewish thinkers. That is a pretty obscure reference, and i would expect that most people in 21st century America will make the same connection i did: "ghetto" = hip-hop (Brendan's Note: Unless they're historians). My point here is this: i think they chose their band name poorly, and that they will miss a part of their target audience because of the name, and they will alienate people who do actually listen because of the name. People who might like them will look at the name and think "rap" then move on. Some rap fans will give a listen and go "huh?" and move on.
Then again, Dreamers of the Corn Fields doesn't really have a ring to it.
Okay, naming confusion aside, there is a lot to like here. The songs are built around the vocals of Luke Jones, who has a huge voice. It has a hint of gravel to it, but Jones knows how to work it. He is an expressive singer with big lungs, able to really wail at times, or mutter his lines convincingly at times. Jones really knows what he is doing, and he is the real attraction here.
The music that is layered around the voice is clearly recorded rock music. The drumming is steady, the guitars are slightly echoing, the bass thumps, and there are a sprinkling of keyboard drones overtop. Whoever recorded this did a fine job of keeping balance, neither layering Jones voice too far out front that it overpowers the instruments, nor letting it be swallowed by the noise. In the 1990s, we would have called this "alternative rock", and there is a certain retro feel to the record, but it is not like they are a Pearl Jam tribute act. It is just a hint in the way the keyboards, voice, and guitar are all balanced.
When i listen to this record i am reminded of bands like U2, or Midnight Oil, bands with a generally optimistic feel and standard rock song structure. And, well, both of those bands had anthems -- big huge tunes that were designed to be sung by thousands in an arena, songs with lyrics both deep and vague, so that each listener could connect to them in their own way. Enemy/Lover is Diesel and Dust without Beds Are Burning. It is War without Sunday, Bloody Sunday. This is my only complaint here. Dreamers of the Ghetto are reaching for that kind of thing, and they have the sound down right, and obviously have the talent, they just haven't gotten there yet. Of course it is important to remember that it took both Midnight Oil and U2 four records to get to that place, and Enemy/Lover is Dreamers of the Ghetto's first album. Give them time.
That said, there are a few songs that really stand out. Regulator features a guitar that chimes along rather nicely as the keyboard drones. The song has a catchy riff and nicely repetitive lyrics, and is a pretty good tune, but just not quite anthemic. This was a single for the band, and it should have been some type of hit.
Tether, the almost eight minute epic that closes the record, is closer to anthemic. It features a steady staccato beat that just drives the tune along, while guitars whirr and Jones just lets loose with his voice. The song just goes and goes and goes...
Always is a pretty good tune with a slippery drum beat. Something in the way Jones is singing here reminds me of one of the two singers from British Sea Power, the one who sang Waving Flags (and i can never remember which one does what in that band).
But, really, there are no weak songs here. Enemy/Lover is ten quality, big, boisterous pop tunes. I really think that this band has potential. I wonder what they will come up with in four albums.