Seventeen Blocksand Then Some is a love letter to Montreal, a vulnerable confessional, and a picturesque journal of a time spent learning and growing.
As Montreal is a haven for artists building community and making art together for an affordable price, it’s no surprise that Dresser comes from the city’s cultural hub. Guitarist/vocalist Finn Dalbeth, originally from Auckland, New Zealand, came to the francophone city as any aspiring musician would do — to play in a band and create something beautiful. On Dresser’s Seventeen Blocks and Then Some, Dalbeth, bassist Chris Foster, and drummer Kevin White (with added vocals by Emmanuelle Beauvais-Lacasse and guitar by Ryan Young) take us through melancholic but playful art rock while working through some lingering sentiments that emerged from experiences in Dalbeth’s first few years in Montreal.
Through these seventeen blocks, Dalbeth finds himself in contemplation, figuring out life’s afflictions, all while navigating a new city. Whether he’s “melodramatically walking home in the snow” or observing “fence lines cut through dull grey tiles,” he writes these songs from a keen memory. Shrewd wit and vivid metaphors illuminate these recollections as noodly Television-esque melodies and buoyant but steady rhythms bounce around Dresser’s cathartic post-punk playground. On opener “Bystand,” Dalbeth weighs in on the psychological phenomenon of our helplessness when seeing another person in danger. “I would like to believe that it’s not necessary to intervene in what makes me uneasy on the street,” sings Dalbeth over snappy drums, feeling the guilt that arises from inaction. “Blemish,” then, dwells on our inability to accept our imperfections as part of the human experience. “Able-bodied and mindless / How frivolously is your time spent?” Dalbeth muses. Though he pokes fun at those whose lives seem perfect on the surface (“Beautiful people in white dress / By who’s good grace do they find themselves blessed?”), he knows their insecurities are just as bad as his and everyone else’s (“A blemish rests inside the back of my skull / Wanting perfect design and optimal health”). Both songs hit their instrumental breakdowns with urgency as White and Foster’s brisk tempo holds down the fort.
Besides tackling the darker side of our psyche, Seventeen Blocks and Then Some get into the woes of being in amorous relationships. A 3/4 time signature is set in mid-tempo on “Slowly” as if mimicking a waltz set for two lovers. Dalbeth ruminates on a sexual encounter, both parties’ hesitancy palpable. “Your body like mine is frozen in time / Let’s thaw out now,” he sings. Though later, his doubts get the best of him, the swell and retraction of the track conveying his wavering conviction: “Tired past the point where sleep rests me / Limbs won’t respond, are you able to undress me,”. “Groll,” meanwhile, finds Dalbeth “feeling lost in here,” sinking into his own hole of anxiety as he repeatedly sings “all in my head”. It’s when the re-recorded ballad “Shield” begins that Dresser steps into more visceral dejection. While Dalbeth attempts to protect himself from any more heartbreak, sleepless nights abound. “Cause I like lying / I like to tell myself I don’t need you,” he wistfully sings as notes swoon and twinkle in gloom. It’s tender songs like these that present Dresser’s poignant side, the kind of track that permits you to go for a long walk and pensively be in your body. All that said, there is still joy to be found in Seventeen Blocks‘ songs. At the heart of the record, “Grin” finds Dalbeth with newfound freedom in being able to start over. By enduring all the obstacles of being the new kid on the block, he can still proudly sing: “I don’t want to be anywhere else / I love it how here I can’t escape myself.” It’s evident that Dresser’s music is well-served by the city. In some way, Seventeen Blocksand Then Some is a love letter to Montreal, a vulnerable confessional, and a picturesque journal of a time spent learning and growing.
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