The Dears – Times Infinity, Volume Two
Review by Jacqueline Howlett
Sometimes an advance record comes your way and while you know should report on the news, early and loudly, something happens that is a little unplanned. You take it underground, like a secret, like fragile new love. You enjoy it on lush summer night walks home from a perfect patio, playing it aloud like you are a kid with a boom box (which you never had the nerve to do as a kid) and singing along like it’s a number one song because you say so and are bolder now. We are all our own radio DJs. THIS, 1998, is your number one song, seemingly from the times when a number one song was also edgy, could come from the underground, and call you back into deep back catalogues of post-punk, of shoegaze, of weird and beautiful things you never, ever heard at the mall. And now, this calls from the back catologues of yourself. Always just obscure enough to stay cool, forever.
The Dears new album, Times Infinity, Volume Two, is out today. It follows Times Infinity, Volume One (2015).
The title tells you something important. It always does, when the music is important (hint: it’s never flippant). This is a love letter, with its heart on its sleeve but emboldened & big. It’s an exploration of love, and the heaviest words in the canon and the heart: Infinity. Forever. Love. Marriage. Life and Death. Words smothered into cliche elsewhere but live and breathe despite the outside pressures. And its beats range from urgent to intimate; daring and confident and cool, these beats emanate from a shared voice that comes from the deeply private world of a couple. But they are rhythmic, respectful, carefully cultivated and bloom into art.
It’s written from a place of experience that also knows that the only way to survive and to thrive real experience and real life is to know how to remain flexible, plastic, even childlike. Young and open. Changeable and brave and luminescent (as blind as we were to our youthful shine) and in touch with that magic time when we could dream of infinite love even though most young love, hell, most adult love, is fleeting and mercurial and more fragile than butterfly wings in the winds of change and time.
The Dears began at the end of the old record/print media industry, 2004/2005, and already came with a deep and rich vocabulary of beautiful 80s references. They came ricocheting out of Montreal and stopped those with a sharp nose in their tracks. For Murray Lightburn sounded remarkably like Morrissey in the rarest way, at a time when Morrissey was easier to love than he’s been lately and was yet deeply rooted in millions of hearts then aged 30 and beyond. It was no Morrissey impersonation – it was Lightburn’s own sound, his instrument, and it was deliriously real.
“Lost in the Plot” their debut, was a killer song that became ubiquitous enough on radio to give two generations hope for music. On the back of this song and the stellar album No Cities Left, The Dears toured extensively throughout Canada, the U.K., the U.S., Europe, Japan and Australia, opening for The Tragically Hip, Keane and Morrissey (!!!). They charted in the U.K., a fact which had to be a special kind of achievement for a band steeped in British music as all good Canadian kids with access to college radio and watched MuchMusic late at night were. The Dears, then, largely helped galvanize and fit perfectly into the Indie Renaissance of the mid – aughts that is due for a little kick-start of its own right about now. Time moves too fast, and music needs years to grow and become rooted. (Music is not on any set cycle, does not bombard us from on high and then disappear, something like that is more likely to be just advertising.)
Jump cut to 2017. Times Infinity, Volume Two begins with Natalia Yanchak’s clean vocal (nicely reminiscent here of Aimee Mann in her Magnolia era) which builds into gentle harmony with Murray Lightburn, one gradually built into a wall of sound. It is emotionally moving but with a powerful uplift. It is emotional. When someone lightly sings “Don’t mind the apocalypse” you listen, ears peaked, for words from the underground. We toss around that word, now, apocalypse, because we legitimately fear we are in a slow moving one on so many levels both macro and micro; facelessly political; utterly private behind our fractured walls. Our walls, our boundaries, are sandbags; our people, our allies scattered or few, are all. Have to be everything. Enter love.
The end of the world weighed heavily over our musical masters of the end of the century, our only poets, our realest teachers. Bowie had gone to space and it seemed like the only hope as young British men with names as unassuming as Joe, Ian, Steven, Johnny and Robert wrote around the late Cold War and the very real fear of some power mad asshole (or other) blowing it all up. Some things never change. The understanding, precise and harrowing, of fallout is always so much scarier than just disappearing. It’s the survivors who suffer. Who grieve.
Everything’s changed and nothing’s changed.
“I’ve seen empires fall / and nothing changes”
“Our love is powerful / ours for the taking”
I’m fighting until deathrow. It’s the only thing for us.” – “Until Deathrow”.
Has it become a crime to love? To be an artist? Is just about anyone who is interesting, real, and worthy, an outlaw, now? At the darkest times in history, independent minds, incorruptible voices, and subversive, independent minded artists are jailed, killed, persecuted. Shamed, ignored, silenced in one way or another. Will you die for what you love? Be willing at least? Be committed, even if you are committed? To deathrow?
Has it become a capital crime, now, to drive a car if you are a black man or woman? Or to be an immigrant? To be different? To stand up or stand out? Everything is situational, nothing is assured, and safety, home, and belonging is something more privileged than we ever knew. Global communities exist whilst distressing antisocial behaviours and anti-community sentiments thrive online like mold unchecked. Hate is called humour and love, humanity’s greatest ideal, is too often just advertising. Posturing. Empty.
“Should I be bringing guns or knives? / To this fight for our lives? / Or come in peace?” – Guns or Knives
None of this is morbid or dour, not in the least. The album is epic and sweeping in scope. The musical lift makes any and all the darkest questions of humanity and the world’s troubles palatable. Digestible. Survivable. It rewires us. Music, real music, is a tool, a sword, or a shield to arm us for minor slights or our hardest heartbreaks, darkest grief or even violent conflict. Music’s own cold war. And we’ve waited a long time to come across songs with titles like “I’m sorry that I wished you dead”. And many have pined for them. Furthermore, Murray’s voice, who is most often the lead vocal of an utterly co-operative effort, is wonderfully as interesting today as ever. When he soars into Morrissey’s anti-dirge pop realm it is just as much his own realm now, if lesser-known. His lyrical bite, too, is as precise as Blur at their peak with the world at their feet. And who doesn’t need a bit of it. Amid too much nostalgia, there’s something new to celebrate.
Times Infinity,Times Two, like Slowdive’s revolutionary new album, feels a bit like a concept album in the best way. Perhaps all labours of love known as modern rock are cleverly disguised concept albums.
Times Infinity, Times Two, belongs in the hands of global Indie radio, press, and give the mainstream a nudge (or a horse kick) and find its way to the festival stages that are organized by real music lovers with hearts that still beat for music. All the silent flag-bearers in the new cold war. The ones dancing through the apocalypse with one eye on the door and sober hearts no matter how much is drunk knowing fear cannot impair participation where music lives and fight with whatever is at hand like kids with stubborn crooked smiles.
Big love survives darknesses that the unworthy & the unlovable will never ever get to know. We are stronger at the broken places. Big ideas find their way forward and move through time clean and untouchable, immune to hate and darkness and even evil and superstition. I think that’s what this record is telling me to say. With tears in my eyes, I have no shame for once.
The Dears new album, Times Infinity Volume Two, is out today. And we are late. But we have a note.
The Dears are touring extensively in the U.K. (autumn 2017) before returning to Canada for more shows (November). Info here.