The Dears mark incendiary return with Times Infinity Volume One

Times Infinity Volume OneThe Dears always felt like the weird cousin of the '00s Canadian indie scene, trying to cover the darker elements of every other Montreal band, then paint them blacker still. I had an uneasy relationship with 2003’s No Cities Left back then, most fans’ introduction to the band. “Lost in the Plot” showcased a latent fury, while “22: The Death of All the Romance” felt like a revelation, one of those glorious moments when every element of a band conspires to coalesce, to nail that high note they’d been keening for. Even the title, laying down what would prove to be a lifelong preoccupation with the marriage of death and romance, seemed like a summation of their work. From beneath a patchwork of influences, there arose a singular voice that dared to sound quite unlike anyone else.

But across the rest of that album, and stretches of Gang of Losers (2006), Missiles (2008) and Degeneration Street (2011), I couldn’t shake the impression that they hadn’t quite got there. The flashes of genius never dimmed, though they continued to sparkle without ignition. On 2015’s Times Infinity Volume One – only now receiving a full European & UK release – The Dears prove to be nothing short of incendiary.

It's a fittingly grand project: the album is intended as a two-parter, both recorded between Toronto’s Revolution Recording and Montreal’s Thee Mighty Hotel2Tango back in 2014. (Times Infinity Volume Two is on the way, and supposedly the “much darker” of the pair.) Regarding their genesis, frontman Murray Lightburn explained: “Putting these two records together was like solving a puzzle: Volume One was about finding the edge pieces while Volume Two was about the middle pieces. It was very difficult to wrap one’s head around at first, but by the end of production, it just became easier and easier. It’s a metaphor for life, and our life’s story.”

Themes of cyclical union and dissolution are prevalent throughout Volume One, and the lines between outer and inner worlds are typically blurred: heartbreak and apocalypse are essentially interchangeable terms in The Dears’ vocabulary, though the latter takes precedence early on. “We Lost Everything” is a thrilling opener, meting out lines about the earth collapsing over-anxious drum and guitar interplay, but it’s first single “I Used to Pray for the Heavens to Fall” that really kicks off the show. The Dears have often been unfairly compared to Arcade Fire – the latter were always more arena-oriented – but on these first two tracks, there’s a tantalising glimpse of the album Reflektor could have been, an album where the combination of dark synth tracks, quasi-African rhythms and apocalyptic imagery is deployed effectively.

“To Hold and Have” sees the album sway, for the first time, from the romance of death to the death of romance. It’s absolutely wonderful, a hymn to the ferocity of love stacked with all the melodrama The Dears have always done best, decked out with strings. “Tonight, what we had to go through…” Lightburn trails off, lost in the moment. “You Can’t Get Born Again” provides Natalia Yanchak’s first share of lead vocal duties, and when Lightburn returns to the fray, it transforms into a classic girl-boy pop dialogue, with the usual sides taken (Male voice: “I can change…”). Perhaps it's no surprise that the effect never feels affected: Lightburn and Yanchak are, after all, husband and wife.

A four-second title track heralds the album’s second half, beginning with the self-referential “Here’s to the Death of All the Romance” – and, sure enough, the album seems to return both sonically and thematically to the grander, darker climes of its opening. From here, though, it becomes harder to distinguish the two. “Someday All This Will Be Yours” features an almost comically chipper intro, briefly threatening to transform into “Semi-Charmed Life,” and though the music soon darkens, the words remain a beacon of light on the record: “You’ve got to know you’re not alone… with me you’ll always have a home.”

Perhaps the record’s greatest moment arrives with “Hell Hath Frozen in Your Eyes,” a song that manages to be both chilling and uplifting, elegiac and celebratory. And herein lies The Dears’ true superpower: love, loss, sadness, joy, life, death, and all the interminable interims are fused together in one poignant gesture. Times Infinity Volume One is their greatest accomplishment, the first record to truly unite everything the band represents. They are hopeless romantics to the bitter end – and how bitter the end.

Release: 3rd February 2017, Dangerbird Records

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  1. The Dears make a glorious return with Times Infinity Volume One – Live List - 02/02/2017

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