What do you do when your well established band hits a prolific creative period and the double album format is all but off limits as an option for presenting your material? Canadian band The Dears decided to remedy this specific situation by release a two volume set over a six month period. The July 14th release of “Times Infinity Volume 2” is the second helping of musical goodness that completes the set started with “Times Infinity Vol.1”. The latest release delivers a darker perspective than Volume 1 and has a more weathered and world weary wisdom, while also getting more up close and personal. Found on the album are all the stellar musical characteristics The Dears have embodied on their seven prior releases.
The Dears are one of the foundational bands in the Canadian Indie Renaissance of the early noughties. The have been frequently referred to as Arcade Fire with fewer members. In a career spanning over twenty two years and counting they have become renowned for their powerful emotional performances that have won over critics and serious audiophiles. Live their concerts often carried the feeling of cathartic musical therapy sessions.
The Dears were founded in 1995 by now married duo Murray Lightburn and Natalia Yanchak in Montreal, Quebec. They have gained significant recognition for their works in Canada winning multiple Polaris Awards. The band has had its ups and downs taking a hiatus after their 2011 “Degeneration Street” album to deal with an endless string of personal triumphs and tribulations. For the recording of “ Times Infinity Vols. 1 and 2” the band consists of Lightburn and Yanchak sharing vocal duties, and playing a multitude instruments as Jeff Luciani handles the percussion and drumming duties.
“Times Infinity Volume 2” like Volume 1 was written over a two year period between the spring of 2014 and summer of 2015. From the album’s inception there was little thought given to generating singles but a focus on building a cohesive unit that would have openers, center pieces and cleanup hitters. Almost like building a dream team of musical songs on an album.
There are some overt differences between “Times Infinity Volumes 1 and 2” the most apparent being the overall outlook of the releases. Volume I fights adamantly against the outer pressures and wrongs of the world. In contrast Volume 2 seems to surrender to inevitability. On Volume 2 hard truths overwhelm the innocence and idealism offered on Volume 1. Additionally things get a bit more claustrophobic as the world collapses inward into the immediate surroundings. Questions about family and married life are rife throughout the release. There is also a more experimental feeling and a stepping away from the traditional; which is not that unusual for The Dears but more evident when compared to the earlier release. For someone like me who prefers a release where it gets darker and introspective, this album scratches an itch. Both Volumes I and 2 are inspired and the contrast in moods is conveyed so brilliantly that both releases enhance the other.
“Take it to the Grave” the lead off song of the album, is a fantastic journey examining the brevity of time and all the things that distract us. The crystalline vocals deliver a soul shivering lyric “If I don’t get home to you”, which is a universal fear we all share if we are being honest. Sonically the song starts out with a minimalist keyboard treatment and by the end becomes this sophisticated expansive orchestral event. The emotions expressed in the accompaniment bring to life all our concerns and fears making for a song full of impact. “All Hail Mary’s” posits the possibility that our lives are filled with Hail Mary plays where success is a fluke at best. The Hammond organ keyboards utilized on the track bring on an extraordinary feeling of soulful Stax Records with a 21st century vibe; then suddenly without noticing it the song once again shapeshifts into another glorious panoramic soundscape.
The release continues offering another outstanding pair of tracks. “Of Fisticuffs and Nothing in it for me nothing in it for you” has both tracks centering on themes of relationship confrontation. It would not be an overreach to suppose the tracks dealing with these issues reflect situations faced by both Lightburn and Yanchak in their marriage. The idea that you can both hate your partner at one moment but love them dearly underneath is the take way. The song’s theme confronts the idea that it is not the mountains of adversity in a relationship that defeat you but the sand of daily irritants in your shoes that will finish you off if you are not vigilant. All these themes are conveyed over a funky jazz styling on “Of Fisticuffs” and in contrast a piano and acoustic guitar treatment on “Nothing in it for me nothing in it for you”.
Themes of relationship struggle and endurance are threaded throughout “Until Deathrow” and “Guns or Knives”. Each track is dramatic but utilizes a different styling to get the point across. On “Until Deathrow” Lightburn utilizes a Bowie phrasing and vocal approach over a baroque keyboard as he vow to fight till the end for a relationship, “I will fight until Deathrow for us”. “Guns and Knives” in turn takes a more traditional rock approach as it fights for relationship survival, “should I bring guns or knives for the fight for out lives or come in peace?” This track ends with the realization that you have to take people especially your partner as they are if there is to be any hope of enduring.
The most traditionally pop entry of the release is “I’m Sorry I wished you were Dead”, which again takes up the examination of how much you can be driven mad by the same person you would die for; saying things you don’t really mean in the heat of the moment, “I’ve learned some things should be left unsaid so I’m sorry I wished you dead.” I think anyone in a long term relationship can identify with these feelings. A situation where one is forced to decide between recanting the ill will expressed or deciding not to waste time on negative feelings and moving on. In the overarching narrative of the release this track is the darkest place for relationship being portrayed. Moving away from this point the last two tracks, “I Love you Times Infinity” and “End of the Tour” recommit the relationship to a vow of fidelity and love. In the end each person in the couple decides to face the unpredictability of life’s journey together.
“Times Infinity Volume 2” is the final piece of the puzzle completing the journey started on Volume 1. It is an inspired blending of introspection, soul and that special proprietary blend of magic The Dears create. The Dears have never flinched from encountering raw emotion and challenging territory and with “Time Infinity Volume 2” they indicate they plan to continue. Neither of the volumes is better than the other; like a marriage each release brings different strengths to the table making for a fantastic unit. The Dears are a sadly underappreciated band who deserves a larger audience. For sophisticated introspective music fans this a release you should not overlook, you will be greatly rewarded for your interest.