Album Review: The Dears – Times Infinity Volume One

8/10

Album Review: The Dears - Times Infinity Volume One

On February 3rd Canadian Orchestra Dark Pop band The Dears will be releasing their sixth studio album Times Infinity Volume One. The Dears are one of the foundational bands in the Canadian Indie Renaissance of the early oughties. Some have referred to them as Arcade Fire with fewer members. The band has certainly done more with less over their twenty-two year career; winning over critics and serious musical listeners alike, but never quite breaking out into greater commercial success. The band is renowned for their powerful emotional live performances which often feel like musical therapy sessions. It has been six years since their last release “Degeneration Street”. As if to make up for the time off the Dears have announced they will be releasing “Times Infinity Volume Two” sometime this summer.

The Dears were founded in 1995 in Montreal, Quebec and their first album End of a Hollywood Bedtime Story was released in 2000. They have been described as a cross between The Smiths and Serge Gainsbourg with lead singer Murray Lightburn’s vocals compared to Morrissey and Damon Albarn. Their music has a complexity of composition that puts them among the ranks of Early Peter Gabriel Genesis and Radiohead and is best characterized as cabaret styling married to intense moody orchestral rock. A number of the band’s albums have been recognized by the Canadian Polaris Awards. In 2007  The Dears’ Gang of Losers was shortlisted for the Polaris Awards and in 2011 they were nominated for the award again with Degeneration Street. It was after “Degeneration Street” that the band decided on a hiatus that came after a seemingly endless string of personal triumphs and tribulations.

Throughout the years the band has seen a number of changes in their line up. After “Gang of Losers” the band experienced a turbulent period in their personnel, but from that angst the band recorded Missiles in 2008 and 2011’s “Degeneration Street”. The band currently comprises founding members and married couple Murray Lightburn and Natalia Yanchak. Roberto Arquilla, Jeff Luciani and Patrick Krief finish off the roster. Times Infinity was recorded in sessions at Toronto’s Revolution Recording and Montreal’s The Mighty Hotel 2 Tango studio. The writing and composing for the album took place over a two year period. Lightburn says of the two part project ”Putting these two albums together was like solving a puzzle. “Volume One” was about finding the edge pieces and Volume Two was about finding the middle pieces. It was very difficult to wrap one’s head around it all at first, but by the end of production, it just became easier and easier. It’s a metaphor of life and our life’s story.” Lightburn also produced and mixed the release.

In comparison to prior works Times Infinity Volume One moves away from the heavier ominous tension of Degeneration Street and provides something more jaunty and playful. The songs are more concise making their point and move on. The release is less a nebulous conceptual piece. The album starts with We Lost Everything an addictive energy laden song. It is rhythmically captivating and loaded with exuberance and intensity, all happening over an extraordinary textured composition. The excitement of the song belies the message which is sadly forlorn as it addresses loss and isolation. I Used to Pray for the Heavens to Fall is a slower tempo track and begins with a hypnotic mantra that asks,”Who’s side are you on?” The song has an off kilter structure that twists into something funkier about a third of the way through, and puts a spotlight on the guitars. It is an alluring track that is sophisticated yet accessible and ends with a very epic rock rift writ larger, turning grandiose and anathematic and left me very impressed.

The oscillating ballad To Have and To Hold has a simpler structure than the prior songs but the accompaniment is intricate and displays the band members’ excellent musicianship. The lyrics speak to holding on firmly to a relationship emphasized by lyrics like, “the life we’ve fought so hard for I want so much more to have and to hold.” The track brings to mind the works of The Smiths and Crowded House. This moving selection is followed by You Can’t Get Born Again which uses an interestingly structured duet of sorts. Natalia makes the point that no matter how we want to wipe the slate clean and start all over, we have to move on being informed by the past. Murray then comes in acknowledging his mistakes and taking the blame but yearns to be born again; finally the duo melds vocals both stating they know they won’t be born again but can try again. The entire song unreels over a shimmering guitar accompaniment that meshes perfectly with the vibe required to deliver the song’s emotion. The title track Times Infinity is a blink and miss it 4 second snippet that acts as a signpost for the mid way point of the album.

Here’s to the Death of Romance kicks off the second half of the release, again utilizing a more urgent sound with insistent drums. The powerful song transpires over a large soundscape. It is a beautifully executed track with numerous hooks that will make you want to give it repeated listens to catch everything going on in and around the track. Someday All of This Will Be Yours harkens to the jangle rock of classic REM and has simply fantastic guitars pushing the song along, in addition there is this interesting funk infusion that makes the song a singularly unique The Dears creation. The lyrics speak to the ideal of attempting to give a legacy to those coming after you and having to fight to make it happen, “They’ll never leave you the hell alone…This will all be yours someday, and others will try like hell to take it away”. It is a slightly paranoid stance enmeshed in an engaging accompaniment.

Faces of Horror and Hell Hath Frozen in Your Eyes are both very sinister and almost macabre in tone. There is a plodding dirge like feel as the organ and drums come front and center on the songs. Lightburn channels a creepy Jim Morrison take on the vocals with lyrics like, “we will be alright, all night long” which invites the listener to ponder what unsettling thing is just outside of view. Both slightly disturbing tracks will win you over in the end.

The finale to the release is Onward and Downward which depart from the prior two darker selections as Natalia provides an excellent vocal capstone to the release. The accompaniment is bouncy with soulful strings and a delightful flute; all the while the lyrics again dwell on an unpleasant idea, “In the end we all die alone.” The song showcases of all of The Dears strengths and it is beautifully textured and performed.

Times Infinity Volume One is a slight departure from The Dears prior works. There is an accessible cohesion that makes for a great listen. I found myself time and again wondering how The Dears are not better known outside of Canada. I am left to believe that the band may have just missed bus that would have enabled them to join the zeitgeist of the early oughties which would have propelled them to larger renown. For those who have missed their earlier works “Time Infinity” provides the opportunity to catch up and enjoy what the band has on current offer. The release serves as an excellent gateway into The Dears discography and also builds curiosity about what is yet to come on Volume two. The Dears unique creativity has produced another release that boggles the imagination.

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