Montreal’s The Dears have been sprinkling their own particular brand of dramatic pop magic on the world for nigh on 20 years now and Murray A. Lightburn and Natalia Yanchak have returned with a re-invigorated line up for Times Infinity Volume One, the band’s first album for six years. And with …Volume 2 ready for launch some time this Summer, it won’t be anything like as long a wait for the next one.
The record kicks into life with the restless groove of ‘We Lost Everything’, all twitchy bass and wah-wah, and a real curve ball opener which gives no clue what is coming next. It builds frantically with Lightburn howling “I never wanted to do this” but sounding for all the world that he really had to. The staggering ‘I Used To Pray For The Heavens To Fall’ quickly appears to keep the bar high, and is a masterclass in the emotionally charged sound that the band have made their own. For a band famed for their intense live shows, this song is a perfect realisation of that energy and absolutely up there with their very best work.
‘To Hold And Have’ has a false-fade at the start and re-emerges as a sweet, string-driven almost-ballad – it sounds huge, with a real crisp, widescreen production that becomes a feature of the record as a whole. The Dears have also become better at self-editing: Times Infinity Volume One clocks in with a sub-40 minute running time and this helps keep the impact high, where previous albums have been largely much longer. This may be due to the album being a Volume One, but if so, then the decision to split the material into two albums has, on the evidence of this first one, worked a treat.
There is a nod to 2003’s breakthrough No Cities Left on ‘Here’s To The Death Of All The Romance’, (that album had ’22: The Death Of All The Romance’), a completely different song, but a smart way to link the records together and a very strong track that has husband and wife team Murray and Yanchak duetting as they also do on the wonderful ‘You Can’t Get Born Again’, one of the lighter moments on an album of contrasts – it has a lovely Beach House-style guitar riff running through it with fits nicely with the shared vocals.
Elsewhere, ‘Face Of Horrors’ has a sixties cinematic feel, utilising tasteful strings (as do many of the tracks), while ‘Hell Hath Frozen In Your Eyes’ is arguably an example of Lightburn picking a humorously overly dark title for a song that is actually quite light to the touch and sounds like the ideal album closer: “We’ll be alright all night long” goes the refrain as if the tribulations of the album’s various subject matters have been worked through and resolved, and, thank goodness, everything is ok in the end.
But just as the listener is expecting to take off the record / eject the CD / whatever happens at the end of streaming, a master stroke appears in the form of Yanchak singing an outwardly quite sprightly song (‘Onwards and Downwards’)…but wait, what’s that lyrical refrain? “In the end / One will die alone”. Genius, and there is a real feeling that The Dears are playing with us a little here, displaying a darkly comic form of humour or even self-deprecation that they perhaps don’t always get recognition for.
In years to come, when all is said and done, Times Infinity Volume Onemay well be the record that is considered The Dears crowning glory. A triumph.
Times Infinity Volume One is released by Dangerbird Records on February 3rd, 2017.