Review – “A Mutual Understanding” – Jesse and the Dandelions

a mutual understandingreviewed by Michael Thomas

It’s a rare treat to be able to follow a band from its origins and hear their sound and songwriting mature. Lethbridge’s Jesse and the Dandelions showed youthful zeal on their debut album The Lion’s Tooth, but sometimes let their songs get a little too bloated. Since that debut, front man Jesse Northey kept himself very busy, working production on a slew of albums and even starting a record label, Esper Records.

The first glimpse of Northey and the band’s maturity came last summer with the EP Time and Space and Everything In Between. That EP saw the song lengths tightened and a nice focus on all things, well, time and space. Now, the band’s sophomore album is here, and it is the complete opposite of sophomore slump, showing the band embracing a sound for all it’s worth. It’s a pop-rock sound that alternates between bright-and-upbeat and sombre-and-downtempo.

A Mutual Understanding may come across as a sombre title, bringing to mind something serious, but the album is basically all about how difficult reaching such an agreement is. No two people ever want the same things from a relationship, be that romantic, friendly or in business.

A song that addresses this theme is “Lightning Bolt,” one of the album’s strongest songs that explicitly states that a relationship without arguments doesn’t mean bliss. “Just because we didn’t fight, didn’t mean we got along,” Northey says at one point in the song.

If anything, explicit statements are something to be found in a lot of these songs, using the word “explicit” in the sense that there’s little subtlety. Not that this is a bad thing—in keeping with that theme of trying to attain that near-unreachable mutual agreement, one often needs to be blunt in their feelings. “Only Just Friends” is the album’s most overtly poppy number, and it’s pretty honest lyrically, too, with lines like “We’re never gonna kiss like this again.”

The album also continues on with the themes of the planets and time, cleverly bookending the record with opener “Looking at the Sun” and closer “Looking at the Moon.” The songs take cues from their respective cosmic objects, with the former consisting of bright vocals and guitar chords, almost like the energy one has once he or she has woken up. The latter goes for a pretty feel with the same bright chords, but with plenty of vocal harmonies and the sense that a peaceful night of rest is on the way. Centrepiece “Mistakes Often Haunted,” a slower number, features a line about “fighting over your space and time.”

As we’ve no doubt experienced in all of our lives, relationships are messy things. but Jesse and the Dandelions never take raw feelings to extremes, whether that’s in the form of sugary ballads or anger-fueled rock. Perhaps there’s more subtlety here than initially thought.

Top Tracks: “Looking at the Sun”: “Lightning Bolt”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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