Times Infinity Volume One by The DearsRelease date: February 3, 2017
Label: Dangerbird Records
Montreal’s The Dears may have formed in 1995 but they only appeared on my radar in 2003 with their sublime second album No Cities Left. Here was a unique collection of swooning heartbreak laden tunes delivered with the honeyed tones of Murray Lightburn, one of the most underrated vocalists of this generation, in my opinion. When my father passed away, it was one of Lightburn’s lines from ‘We Can Have It’, “You never said I’d see you again…You never said I will…I will” that gave me some strength at a very difficult time. I can barely listen to that song today. I managed to get along to one of their gigs when they toured the Gang of Losers album and to this day, it ranks very highly in the most memorable category.
The same can’t be said though for their recorded output in recent times. I didn’t find anything particularly memorable about 2008’s Missiles, or their last effort from 2011, Degeneration Street. So I didn’t have much expectation when I first pressed play to listen to Times Infinity Volume One. Those fears were soon assuaged with warm-up opener ‘We Lost Everything’. Lightburn intones with serious intent “There was a warning” while choppy drums, ringing alarm guitars and squelchy electronics add some sci-fi menace. What seems an introverted and edgy song explodes into a full blown myriad of instrumentation while Lightburn jumps in with his soulful yelp of “I never wanted to do this…alone”.
The band go straight for the jugular with ‘I Used to Pray for the Heavens to Fall’, starting the song with a more restraint take on the song’s glorious refrain. It’s such a powerful moment when Lightburn challenges “Whose side are you on?” it grabs your attention immediately. It’s precisely at this moment I realise The Dears are back on form. With a twitchy verse featuring flickering guitars, sub bass synths and irritable percussion, the track eschews regular song structures advantageously. The section repeating “It’s not safe!” almost outstays its welcome before we go for the money shot. The rocking refrain is a monumental earworm of “Whose side are you on?” recalling Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’ in full throttle Formula One theme section.
On ‘To Hold and Have’, the fade-up-fade-out intro of swooning strings finally settles and a crooning Lightburn eases out a gorgeous melody over sweet violins and lilting guitars and the song is pure heartbreak. Of course there has always been a strong romantic theme to The Dears songs, be it good or bad romance. Musically, ‘You Can’t Get Born Again’ veers into sickly 60s folk, while Natalia takes up the mic for a swirling duet, the vocals intertwining while the band raise up the volume.
Recalling a song title from Gang of Losers, ‘Here’s to the Death of all the Romance’ features another slippery percussive groove that shimmers and shakes while the band crank up the amps and bring some force while Lightburn booms a marvellous baritone melody. I’m never a fan of the “doo-doo-doo” but at least ‘Someday All This Will be Yours’ is redeemed by some wondrous ebo’d guitar. Though it is hard to find fault with The Dears because Murray Lightburn is possessed with a truly superb voice. Often likened to Damon Albarn (fully tuned mode), Morrissey (the crooning) and a little dash of Prince (the soul), he does such an expert job at relaying heartbreak with his delivery.
Musically, there’s a nod to 60s French pop in ‘Face of Horrors’, the song shifts from being a little twee and irksome to utterly brilliant with a joyous chorus that swoops and swoons with consummate ease. Organs hum and guitars shimmer in ‘Hell Hath Frozen in Your Eyes’ creating a lush background for Murray to provide a sublime and heart breaking melody. When he sings “We’ll be alright all night long” it’s most reassuring like a warm arm around you pulling you close. When he erupts into the full flighted croon it’s hard to fight back the tears.
Natalia returns to provide a lovely clear vocal presence on ‘Onward and Downward’, a marvelous melody and a sweet tune about dying in the end. The instrumentation is as rich as ever and you know it has been lovingly assembled by extremely talented musicians. But I can’t help feel that it’s not going to be heard by many, but for those who do, it’ll be a beautiful secret to hold onto. When I came to write up the review, it transpired that the album originally surfaced in 2015, I had missed it myself! Apparently there is to be a Times Infinity Volume Two later in the year. I look forward to hearing that, it’s good to have The Dears back on my radar.