Dream Label Group
Release Date: May 26th 2017
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- CRZY AWSM (Crazy Awesome)
- Low Key
- 61 / Twenty-Three
- Salt Life
- The Rush And The Roar
- Young Eyes
- Shine Forever
- The Way That I Feel Now
Have you ever felt that when a band changes their musical style, that while on the surface, you love their new style, you miss their old style, until another band comes along and essentially adopts the old style of the previous band, and makes your heart jump for joy again? Hawk Nelson diverged drastically from pop/punk to CCM as lead singer Jason Dunn left the band and Jonathan Steingard stepped in permanently. Now with the albums Made and Diamonds recorded, Hawk Nelson has shifted a bit to the CCM. Well that’s fine and everything, but what about pop/punk goodness? The answer lies in Dream Label Group’s We Are Leo! If you missed the signature sounds of the Hawk Nelson of old, then We Are Leo’s label debut album Fightback Soundtrack, which released on Dream Music Group in 2014, is the closest that we as listeners are going to experience that is similar to what Jason Dunn made popular. Now the band are gearing up to unveil their sophomore project The Rush And The Roar next week, and you can stream the album in full a week early here! With a strong faith in Jesus embedded throughout, electronic, danceable beats, and inspiring lyrics as well, the four friends are well on their way to being extremely popular and well respected in the future. Though there are some cliché and cheesy lyrics, other moments are brilliantly produced and sung, leaving this 11 track album being the biggest surprise (in a good way) to release in May so far!
If you’re in a pop/punk band, then most of the material you record would probably be upbeat. Fit for the dance floor, with expansive guitar hooks, stellar and captivating drum beats and chilling electronic effects and synths added in for good measure as well. Well that is what We Are Leo are musically in a nutshell, but add in some positive and uplifting lyrics, as well as a focus towards Jesus (while not necessarily explicitly mentioning His name!). And the result of The Rush And The Roar is nothing short of remarkable. Brilliantly led by engaging electric guitars, the lead single and opening pop number “Dimensions” is immensely enjoyable, as lead singer David Duffield fervently recounts that Jesus has us ‘…seeing stars, You got me breathing hope, You got my beating heart, and now I’m seeing in another dimension…’, as we are reminded of us seeing the world differently once we know that Jesus is for us, paid the price for us, and longs to be with us. Once we know the reality of God’s love for us, we can truly live in His dimension, not just ours. So let me ask you, what dimension are you travelling in?
While the fun filled Owl City like synth led 3 minute pop number “Astronaut”, on the surface can sound similar to “Aligator Sky” from Owl City, a deeper look reveals We Are Leo are actually comparing the love Jesus has for us to us being astronauts walking on the moon- it’s a clever lyrical tactic and one that is quite inventive. “Warrior” is the somewhat obligatory and required radio friendly mid-tempo piano ballad, as David places on his Adam Agee hat and authoritatively declares that ‘…You were made to be a warrior, warrior, at the front of the line, standing up through the fight, warrior, warrior, to break these chains that were holding you down, all because of the One who turns the weak into the strong…’, an ever true proclamation that we are stronger than anything on this earth, because of He who lives in us- yet this overly CCM melody works, at least for me, and is quite enjoyable, and is a nice change in pace.
The 80’s themed pop/punk explosive summer happy go/lucky tune “Salt Life”, reminiscent of Hawk Nelson’s “California”, has David singing to his special someone, his loved one, reminding them that he long to go on holiday with them, to escape the drivel on mundane life, so that he can just recharge the batteries and live in peace for a moment- a far cry from worshipping Jesus, but still a heartfelt and poignant track encouraging us all to slow down and live each moment as if it’s a moment we never would get back again (which is true!). So many people in this life take the little things that happen for granted, and We Are Leo encourages to cherish everything in this song, because we do not know when they will be gone. Taking it one step further, We Are Leo tackles the pain of horrific circumstances in our past, reminding that Jesus can heal us all from our shortcomings, in “Young Eyes”, a powerful and captivating electronic/synth led ballad, essentially declaring that ‘…the sun shines in the dead of night, You found good in the ruins of my life, bringing hope back into the young eyes…’, while the band proclaims and victory/worship/battle winning pop declaration “Shine Forever” that I reckon will be a potential single in the future, boldly reiterating that ‘…all of the darkness can’t extinguish this flame, we’re growing stronger together…’.
The lyrically sound testimony like electronic synth and keys led sonically and musically schizophrenic album closer “The Way That I Feel Now” hopefully expresses that the way David feels at present is something that needs to be expressed to the whole world, in light of what Jesus has done for us, while the beautifully created and anthemic album highlight that is the title track is essentially a worship track, with David ardently crying out that once Jesus is active and moving in our lives, our perspective completely changes, and there’s a feeling of a rush and a roar like nothing we could ever fathom or explain.
While a couple of party songs are featured here as well, which could be the downfalls of the album if you loathe mainstream-like music. “CRZY AWSM (Crazy Awesome)” is a Group 1 Crew- “Live It Up”-kind of pointless party melody, with repetitive lyrics and an irritating melody, but it’s hard not to move your feet and dance to this song that has nothing to do with Jesus whatsoever! While the 80’s throwback electric guitar led dance melody “Low Key” subtly mentions how we are changed because of Jesus’ love, that ‘…You give me this feeling, it’s deep inside my bones, and you know, it ain’t typical, You got me believing, Your love is what I need, and you know, it’s a miracle…’ and we all should dance, yet at the same time be low key about our faith in Jesus, and show Jesus through our actions than words- on the surface if you’re not listening hard enough, you might think this track is a mainstream melody- We Are Leo are clever like that, inserting in motifs and imagery in a mainstream like track, allowing it to be sung both ways, as well as including overtly Christian songs as well. Putting on his Anthem Lights hat, David also sings the inspiring mid-tempo ballad “61 / Twenty-Three”. I reckon these numbers are significant in David’s life (something to do with the date he was saved?), though even if we never know the meaning of these numbers, there’s no denying the passion here and the rousing encouragement for all of us, that Jesus Christ is in our corner no matter what, as ‘…our heart is slowly unbreaking, with your touch, you remake me…’.
So, there you have it. A summary of We Are Leo’s sophomore debut album on Dream Label Group. But did the album live up to my expectations? I think that The Rush And The Roar, though sometimes sounding cliché and cheesy on a few tracks (I’m looking at you “CRZY AWSM (Crazy Awesome)”!), is recorded well, and is a joy to hear these young men of God create meaningful pop/rock and dance music, that can transcend any belief system. The fact that Jesus’ name isn’t used once in the album, is probably a strategy if by any chance the band crosses over into mainstream music, however apart from that fact, it’s evident that these guys have immense passion in and love for Jesus. An album not to miss if you love artists like Owl City and Hawk Nelson, the release is one to look out for and dance to! Well done We Are Leo, I look forward to your next album of pop/rock and dance genius!
3 songs to listen to: Dimensions, Warrior, Shine Forever
RIYL: Hawk Nelson, Stellar Kart, Capital Kings, Owl City, Anthem Lights, Manic Drive