At one time, when considering the albums of Montreal’s finest, The Dears, it’s likely that words like ‘epic’ or even ‘sprawling’ might be bandied about; their 2003 breakthrough No Cities Left was a whopping 66 minutes long, while the band’s mid-period albums like 2008’s Missiles and 2011’s Degeneration Street also hovered around the hour mark. In recent times, though, the group, led for well over 20 years now by Murray Lightburn and Natalia Yanchak, have taken a change of direction, putting out the succinct and anything-but-sprawling albums Times Infinity Volume One and Times Infinity Volume Two. Where previous records could be quite dense and in need of repeated listens to appreciate them (not a bad thing!), the Times Infinity records were incredibly accessible and immediate, without dumbing down the band’s sound or message in any way.
The trend continues, then, on eighth album Lovers Rock – it’s another highly impressive burst of activity with ten songs that fairly jump out of the speakers (and presumably earbuds and headphones too). The mood is set from the very start – no slow fade in for ‘Heart Of An Animal’, which crashes into life with its classic Dears-ness. It has been getting some airplay on some of the more discerning radio stations and it’s easy to see why – it has it all – anthemic chorus, tempo change in the middle, Lightburn’s ever-fabulous voice. It could be a James Bond theme.
Next up is the hugely contrasting, slow and tender (and brilliantly-named) ‘I Know What You’re Thinking And It’s Awful’ – synth washes punctuate the piano-led track while a heavily reverb-ed guitar crashes in from nowhere for a solo that nonetheless fits perfectly. ‘Instant Nightmare’ brings more variety, bringing in Yanchak on lead vocal to create a different feel. Like the Times Infinity albums, all of the songs sound like potential singles, if such things really exist for bands these days.
’Is This What You Really Want’ floats along on a dreamy guitar line and a sympathetic vocal from Lightburn; it’s a really lovely track. ’The Worst In Us’ is a stomping Suede-style song which takes a tangent half-way through to go off in a completely different direction, swapping tastefully distorted guitars for piano and synth.
The album feels very coherent despite its different styles, and the second half kicks off in reflective mood with ’Stille Lost’ and the stately ‘No Place On Earth’, while ‘Play Dead’ despite its title, is a more breezy affair – there’s a lot of space in the songs and this could be one of the reasons they are so easy to take such an instant shine to.
Penultimate track ‘Too Many Wrongs’ could lay a reasonable claim to being the best song on the album; “When will we see the end of tonight / Too many wrongs can’t be right” sings Lightburn in a lilting chorus before another beautifully restrained guitar comes in like a ray of sunshine. The album flashes by and they did manage to fit in an epic closer in the shape of ‘We’ll Go Into Hiding’ – again, despite its title, there is an upbeat feel to the song, whose lyrics actually end with the album title, which kind of underlines the whole thing.
The Dears really are going through a formidable spell at the moment and Lovers Rock is happily already claiming its place amongst the very best work they have produced.
Lovers Rock is released by Dangerbird Records on 15th May 2020.