The Dears‘ latest and sixth album, Times Infinity Volume One, is both grandiose and restrained. Opener ‘We Lost Everything’ is an urgent if slow climb, escalating to a peak you can’t really see. It’s not immediately clear what catastrophe has struck to lead singer Murray Lightburn to tell us that the earth has collapsed, but it’s frenetic and cathartic in its crescendo. Lightburn later reiterates, “I never wanted to do this alone” as the rest of the band whip up a frenzy. You don’t know if the song threatens to blow to smithereens via volume or speed but it eventually does and it does so rather subtly; instruments peter out, bringing the cacophony with it, leaving nothing but the heartbeat of a synth.
And then the album charges ahead with ‘I Used To Pray For The Heavens To Fall’, with Lightburn straining to ask “Whose side are you on?” The song is bookended by this bombastic rhythm, heavy chugging guitars, beatific keys, and cymbals crashing like Zeus is mad at something. It’s slightly retro in the tone, the second block featuring a guitar solo that sounds like it could be snuck into a Queen record. In the middle, there’s light-hearted luscious guitar runs balanced with heavy synth waves. The chorus is a reminder that the city isn’t safe yet by the second verse, it’s apparent that it’s a reminder, Lightburn cooing that nothing beats “holed up in here with you.” Laser-like synths then set off, followed by the sound of a small explosion. So, the world’s coming to an end? All good, let’s hunker in our bunker, me and you.
But then it all decelerates, or at least the band swaps the Lamborghini for a Car2Go. ‘To Hold And To Have’ is driven by cascading strings, lamenting with every note. The following track ‘You Can’t Get Born Again’ opens with flute and acoustic guitar that reminds me of Québec’s Harmonium. The Dears inject it with a bit more folk by having Natalia Yanchak (keys, vocals) harmonize with Lightburn and then the song turns into a duet, Lightburn insisting that he can change but both ultimately realizing what the title states. It’s the tail end of a hopeless relationship, easily the stuff of mellow acoustic guitar strums and cloudy day sighs. However, the keys are bright, the drums (Jeff Luciani) punch without restriction, and the guitar arpeggio loops refuse to resolve their chords.
Ultimately, The Dears seem more comfortable when the music is more mosaic, when there’s more going on than less. ‘Face of Horrors’ has this particularly spine-tingling passage just after the first chorus: xylophone touches to accompany carnivalesque haunted house organs and a single frantically strummed note on the guitar, ready to be let loose. It all comes together like a balanced chemistry equation with no loose ends. Thankfully, moments like these arrive more often than not and it’s easy now to forgive them for their four-year absence.
The Dears album release is at the Phi Centre on September 25 at 8:30 p.m. Tickets $26.