Much ballyhooed by insiders claiming to know the next hip thing, The Dears have gained a certain ascendency over the past several years thanks to a reputation for procuring stunning and sweeping soundscapes that carry a decidedly dramatic edge. Nevertheless, for that reason alone, they’ve also acquired a reputation for being on an elevated plain, one that puts them beyond the grasp of your average pop purist. Formed in 1995, this Canadian combo quickly immersed themselves in that country’s burgeoning indie scene by establishing themselves as artistic auteurs of sorts, a band with a prog-rock sensibility and a knack for ambitious, orchestrated designs with a decidedly upward view. Their initial EP, Orchestral Pop Noir Romantique, more or less set the stage in name as well as intent, and the various offerings that followed — the Protest EP, the collection of unreleased material entitled Nor the Dahlias, and their first effort to really grab attention, No Cities Left — helped affirm their lavish largess. Gang of Losers, released in 2006, cemented their reputation as critical darlings, while an extensive touring schedule and a series of showcases at South By Southwest then brought their music to the masses.
The band’s seen a fairly fluid line-up over the years, but by all accounts, its core duo of singer/composer Murray Lightburn and keyboardist Natalia Yanchak remain the masterminds behind the Dears’ lavishly scored ambitions. And while some have described their live spectacles as “the sonic equivalent of seeing the face of God” (at least as noted by Wikipedia), they also possess the smarts and savvy to keep a grounded perspective. Lightburn’s singing can be likened to a melancholy croon, while the complex arrangements often bring a shift in tone and tempo that can make even the simplest song appear a work of epoch proportions. It’s little wonder than that Gang of Losers, Missiles and the more recent Degeneration Street have continued to garner the knowing nods of critics, and with them, nominations for the prestigious Polaris Music Prize as well.
The band’s new album, Times Infinity Volume One, will likely extend that crush of critical kudos, and given the fact a Volume Two is already planned, it appears The Dears’ cinematic style remains intact. From the kinetic pacing of opening track “We Lost Everything to the dark and didactic “I Used to Pray for the Heavens to Fall” and the sprawling intensity of “Someday This Will All Be Yours,” there’s clear evidence that indeed The Dears’ propensity for drama remains their single most defining factor. There are occasional moments of respite to be sure — the light, lilting and pensively pleading “You Can’t Get Born Again” and the melodious “To Hold and To Have” — but its clear that The Dears’ soaring sentiments are embedded at their creative core.
To be sure, Times Infinity Volume One is not the kind of album that provides an immediate grasp of instant accessibility; their shifting melodies naturally thwart that possibility at the outset. Nevertheless, it does offer reason to cheer. With so much of todays’s music settling for the predictable and inane, The Dears show there’s possibilities for creating a sound that’s decidedly daring and different.
Photo by Richmond Lamb