I was getting all excited because I thought that Gang of Losers, the new album by Montreal alt-pop-rockers The Dears, was coming out on Tuesday (an old graphic on their website indicated so for the last couple of months). It turns out that the album’s release date is August 29 (which isn’t bad, I suppose, when you realize that the States won’t get the album until October).
So I did what any overly-anxious music fan would do: I downloaded it.
In case you’ve never heard of the Dears, let me give you the Coles’ Notes version: six-piece band from Montreal, led by the husband-wife team of Murray Lightburn and Natalia Yanchak. Lightburn is the band’s lead vocalist and their most important weapon: like an African Canadian Morrisey, Lightburn has this amazing ability to make the most hyper-dramatic lyrics – and the Dears’ lyrics are hyperbolically hyper-dramatic, on the rare occasion to a fault – come across as 100% authentic. Their music mixes guitars and keyboards in equal measure to make alternative pop/rock best defined as orchestral: swooning, swirling, and more often than not stunning.
Oh and they’re one of the best live bands in the country.
While I enjoy all of their albums (with their last effort, 2003’s No Cities Left,and the Protest EP being the standouts), the Dears are best enjoyed in person. The guitars get turned up, the intensity gets ramped up to 11 and each of the songs gains a completely different character. I’ve seen them three times – twice in Halifax and once in Wolfville at a show that only 30 or so people attended but the band played like it was a fucking full house – and each time I’ve left even more impressed. An old friend of mine from high school went to see them in Montreal before even hearing a note of their music and left a complete convert. Their live album – 2004’s Thank You Good Night Sold Out – does an okay job capturing their show, but it’s still nothing like seeing them in the flesh.
How’s the new album? I’ve read in interviews that the band has said that they wanted to make an album that sounded more like their live incarnation, and to an extent, they’ve succeeded. The orchestrations are toned down, for a start, and the instruments are largely confined to guitar/keyboard/bass drums. And as a collection of songs, it’s some of the band’s best work.
But there’s something about the mixing that doesn’t sit right with me. Perhaps it’s the quality of the MP3s I downloaded, and when I buy the album in a few weeks it will knock my socks off. But the files that I have never slap me in the face with awesome. On older songs like “Lost in the Plot” or “22: The Death of the Romance,” the intensity of the band comes across far better because the music is fleshed out in a glorious cavalcade of sound, not buried like on the new album. These just come across as good pop songs, lacking in the colour that they should have.
But even if the quality of the songs doesn’t improve much when I buy the album, something tells me that it will when the Dears roll into town this fall and turn up the volume on them.
You should be there when that happens, lest you miss it and regret it forever.
Listen: Five songs by The Dears – including three from Gang of Losers – at The Yellow Stereo.
Watch: The Dears – “Ticket to Immortality” (from 2006’s Gang of Losers):
Watch: The Dears – “Lost in the Plot” (from 2003’s No Cities Left):