It’s been 14 years since The Dears released No Cities Left, the album that was expected to see them break into the big time. Yet, it’s been another Montreal-based husband and wife band who’s eclipsed them in that time. Records like Gang Of Losers and Degeneration Street, although both excellent, failed to catch the general public’s imagination, and Murray Lightburn and Natalia Yanchuk seemed destined to stay as one of the more underappreciated artists in Canada.
After a break of four years (the album was actually released in September 2015, but it’s taken nearly 18 months to secure a UK release), Times Infinity Volume One sees the band revitalised. While it may not fire them to Arcade Fire-style success, it does serve to remind exactly what talented songwriters Lightburn and Yanchuk are, and how they’re an incredibly difficult band to pigeonhole.
As is the case with The Dears, there’s a whole load of genres being crossed on Times Infinity Volume One – the opening swirl of We Lost Everything is reminiscent of early Bloc Party, while on I Used To Pray For The Heavens To Fall begins with a mighty bellow of “whose side are you on?” before settling into a infectiously funky groove featuring some afrocentric guitar riffs. They’re adept at switching from the epic (Here’s To The Death Of All Romance – a nod perhaps to the classic No Cities Left track 22: The Death Of All Of The Romance – feels like it’s destined to fill stadia) to the heartrendingly intimate – the gorgeous To Hold And Have and Yanchak’s closing Onward And Downward both being excellent examples of the pair’s way with a ballad.
To Hold And Have, in fact, could be one of the best things Lightburn’s ever written – a beautifully downbeat lovelorn plea to hold a relationship together augmented by a quite lovely string section. There’s also a breezy country-ish stroll to You Can’t Get Born Again, a slightly dark duet between Lightburn and Yanchuk in which the concept of whether one can change when in a relationship is debated (“I can change, I can change, give me another chance to show you” pleads Lightburn at one point, only to be met with a weary sigh of “you can’t be born again” from Yanchuk).
Another highlight is the dark baroque pop of Face Of Horror, while Someday All This Will Be Yours manages to be both breezy and poppy while also garnering a steady intensity. As ever with The Dears, there’s a sadness and darkness all over the album, but it’s underpinned by hope. Yanchuk’s closing track Onward And Downward reminds us that “in the end, we all die alone”, but it’s delivered in such a way to remind us to get out and start doing things before that inevitable fate.
If anything’s missing on Times Infinity Volume One, it’s the big crossover track that would eventually catapult The Dears into the mainstream. There’s plenty of commercial tracks on the record, but it’s one that works best as an album, with no obvious single. That’s no bad thing – in fact, it’s positively refreshing these days – and it’s a nice reminder of exactly how great The Dears can be. Roll on Volume Two, whenever that may be scheduled for.