The Dears – Degeneration Street

Rating: ★★★★½

When the last Dears record, Missiles, came out, we all knew that there were obvious issues that needed to be addressed.  Amid line-up changes and more time spent collaborating with members old and new, the band have emerged with what might possibly be their best record to date.  Degeneration Street is full of squalls of feedback, great melodies and everything you’ve come to expect from the band.

You’ll begin the journey, and believe me, it’s a trek, with “Omega Dog” offering up a tight little angular guitar riff as Murray Lightburn does his best to approach a nice little falsetto.  There’s a nice little groove, and the guitar riff will definitely resonate with every listener.  Of course, the Dears never stand in place for long, going off into a darker corner of the song for the closing minute, with a fierce little guitar solo accompanied by noisy atmospheric elements.

But, one of the things that makes Degeneration Street so stunning is its ability to shift gears, much as the band does on the second track “5 Chords.”  While other bands bash out their hits in less than thirty minutes, here you’ll find a band building their sound, not only within individual tracks, but with the album as a whole.  This number definitely fulfills the happier pop element present in the record, with sweeping harmonies.  A stomping drum beat helps keep the pace through it all, but please, pay great attention to Lightburn, as its clearly his voice that deserves all accolades in this song.  Similarly, “Thrones” does a great deal to take the somewhat prog-leaning elements into a bit of melodrama, but that’s mean in a respectful sense.  Tiny guttural yelps from Murray signify his playfulness, which we can hope relates to his joy with writing this entire collection of songs.

You’ll never think that the band has gone completely soft after listening here, as sharp-edged guitars are a constant throughout.  Take “Stick w/ Me Kid,” which chugs along a jagged guitar line.  The keyboard or programmable element only furthers the tension in the song, keeping listeners on squirming.  Okay, so the operatic element in Murray’s voice definitely allows you to see a bit of light within the song, as we can imagine him standing in the middle of the audience, controlling us all with his voice as the band rages furiously on stage.

In the end, what stuck with me the most about Degeneration Street was the sense of jubilation that lives within the tracks, despite the usual lyrical content remaining.  Let’s face it, Murray hasn’t always been one for optimism, but even with similar themes intact, you can’t tell me that songs like “Yesteryear,” with its almost danceable beat, don’t portray a man who’s having a blast writing the record he always wanted to unleash.  Just try and tell me that “Easy Suffering,” in title alone, doesn’t paint the picture of a happier frontman. I blame this freedom and joy for one of the stronger tracks I feel the band have written, “Tiny Man.”  It’s a solemn tune, one that surely comes from Lightburn’s personal writing, but his vocal delivery, and the mood just creates something wonderful to witness, especially after following the band from their earliest years. Perhaps I’m a simpleton, but sometimes a step back from traditional habits allows for great moments to burst forth.

Such sentiment seems to pervade Degeneration Street.  At times in the past, they seemed victim of their unstable footing, but musical prowess never fell by the side.  It’s always lived in the writing of Murray Lightburn, and it seems that perhaps with a strengthened Dears line-up, he’s finally been able to fit all the pieces together, as we all hoped he would do.  It’s a sixty-minute affair, with varying styles, various approaches, all settling in the end, leaving listeners with one of the most rewarding listens that I’ve heard in a really long time.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/01-Omega-Dog.mp3]

Download: The Dears – Omega Dog [MP3]

The Dears – Missiles

Rating: ★★★★½

Years into the future, we will look back upon the “oughts,” searching for those few bands that we all seemed to forget about, but that completely deserved our love and affection.  Already I can see The Dears being one of those bands; so adored by fans, yet never given the chance to completely blossom before us.  Their latest release, Missiles, again has them chasing down labels, losing members and still coming out on top of the world. They settled with Dangerbird Records in order to release the album in these United States.

Much has been made of singer, Murray Lightburn’s, tendency to come off as a black Morrissey, but throughout this album you get a peak at a more mature Murray, one that is comfortable in his own skin, singing as carefully as his music requires.  Opening track, “Disclaimer” features one of the most laid-back Lightburn vocal performances to date, which is still ridiculously wonderful in its own right.

One of the more apparent attributes of this album, and possibly the one fault, is that this album doesn’t sound quite as complete as The Dears albums from the past.  There are some empty spaces throughout the record, which is most likely due to the loss of every member in the band other than Natalia and Murray.  Although their traditional soundscapes are not nearly as dense as they once were, it makes way for a lot more intimate moments for the listeners, not to mention the full emergence of Natalia’s vocals.  But, most will find that the grandiose soundscapes of typical construction are strikingly absent here.

As usual, there is evidence of a certain sense of melancholy and ruination, as evidenced by songs like “Demons,” but the unique organization of the lyrical content in the songs carefully allows for the continual movement of the songs’ statements.  After all the trials and tribulations of the band, and couple, heading this album, it’s difficult not to empathize with everything they’ve gone through, even in song.

Admirably, they solider on into that good night.  Creating wondrous songs full of lush guitars, ebbs and flows, and subtle defiance.  Many of the songs go beyond the 5 minute mark, which really means you have more of The Dears to listen to night after night.  The build up towards the final launch in “Missiles” is just an example of the mastery this group has over their songs, perfecting nearly every one.

In the end, we might all skip over this one, or this band for that matter.  We may see their absence of credibility with various labels, or the decrease in interest building up to this new album; but, always present will be the incredible songs the group has written, and continues to write, in the face of more adversity than most of us will ever care to endure.

Check out the song “Meltdown in A Major” elsewhere on our website.

New Music From The Dears

If you’re one of those people surprised to hear that Montreal band The Dears are still making music, join the club.  Surprised or not, the band will be releasing a new album on October 20th entitled Missiles.  The band has yet again seen a ton of lineup changes and only Murray Lightburn and Natalia Yanchak (also married) remain of the founding members.  We’ve got the dreamy and mesmorizing single from the upcoming album entitled “Meltdown in A Major” for your listening pleasure.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/thedears_meltdowninamajor.mp3]

Download: The Dears – Meltdown in A Major [MP3]