Times Infinity Volume Two by The Dears

Release date: July 14, 2017
Label: Dangerbird Records

It really is good to have Montreal’s The Dears back. Not just in terms of actually releasing music, but bringing us glorious tunes that sit alongside the finest in their collection. Following hot on the heels of Volume One (released in February), here comes Times Infinity Volume Two. Certainly the darker of the two albums, which is at times a fairly bleak place considering Volume One had some heart breaking moments. But as is often the case, listening to someone else convey deep anguish and sorrow can be cathartic for the listener. Murray Lightburn is the master of emotional and soulful outbursts often taking you by surprise and providing some spine tingling moments throughout.

Once again the interplay between Lightburn and his Wife, Natalia Yanchak makes for the occasional uncomfortable listen, such is the intimacy conveyed in their duets. Natalia takes the lead on opener ‘Taking it to the Grave’ which continues the sounds from Volume One with intricate percussion and layers of keys. Murray’s echoing background vocals repeating Natalie’s lines sound frail and yearning, then the song erupts into euphoria with post rock(ish) guitar lines and blissful chant of “taking it to the grave”. Murray launches into the full croon and hearts snap. Quite simply, no-one does intro tunes better than The Dears.

Following the format of the first song, ‘All the Hail Marys’ toys with you for a little with some Scooby-Doo organ and delicate percussive strokes. Murray teeters on the brink of despair again singing “f**k the pain, f**k the pain and the suffering away”. The dropping down a well reverb effect on every “down” gives a 3D edge. You know there’s a big finale about to come and Murray hollers “breakdown” over and over as the music swells into an emotional sea of strings, guitars and piano. As with Volume One, the first three tracks aim to hit you hard and grab your attention and ‘Of Fisticuffs’ finishes off the combo with a sleek slippery rollercoaster of a groove. Murray said he wanted the sound to be like the Rolling Stones, hence the percussive bombardment. It works too, complimented with ‘Sympathy’ style “doo doo doo’s”. The instrumentation is rocking with muscular intent, the guitars mesh together to provide some marvellous lead lines. Mistakes and regret are the main themes of the song as Murray asserts “Indeed I’ve had enough…of fisticuffs”.

In my review of Volume One I made the bold statement that Murray Lightburn is one of the finest vocalists of this generation and on ‘Nothing in it for Me, Nothing in it for You’, he carries the song with a truly stellar vocal performance. The emotion in Murray’s voice throughout is remarkable, his baritone croon superbly set in the mix. When he sings “Oh I don’t know what you were thinking now you’re entangled up with me, by blood for all eternity”, I can’t fathom why this band aren’t filling stadiums. But as with all of their albums to date, the quality tends to dip a little with some songs not as able as others, in terms of dynamics.

The aptly named ‘Until Deathrow’ has a funereal pace and drumbeat, while 80s synths provide a springy minimalist melody over sorrowful strings, the track lacks life (no surprise given the title) and is one to pass over. ‘I’m Sorry that I Wished You Dead’ has Natalia singing a tale of defiance over a stuttering groove but the song drifts a tad aimlessly when a little dynamic would have helped. Stealing from Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ in places, ‘I Love You Times Infinity’ comes across like a soundtrack to an 80s soft porn movie. Finally, ‘End of Tour’ is another track that sets itself up on a lonesome highway and then refuses to travel along any side roads. It’s all very pleasant and lushly produced but as the song title suggests, the band sound a little weary and looking forward to a rest. Having said that, this is their second album of the year!

Whilst the overriding theme of Times Infinity Volume Two is darkness, there are uplifting moments. The droning organ and train-like shuffling groove of ‘1998’ has Murray sounding enthralled and happy keening “this..is..being alive!” during a tremendous slowed down mid-section, with the reverb whacked up full. Bringing out the melodica is a masterstroke and it causes the sun to shine through the grey clouds. The chorus of ‘Guns or Knives’ is glorious with a lovely wall of sound production, with soaring strings and lilting guitars. A well employed tambourine gives the song a little hope despite the fighting talk of the lyrics.

You can’t help feeling that if the best tracks from Volume One and Volume Two were put together, this would be one hell of an album, by anyone’s standards. The mainstays of The Dears, Murray and Natalia are clearly in control of what happens with this band and will have wanted to release two albums in the way they have. This isn’t the norm for bands nowadays, with most firing out an album every three years or so before touring until they can’t stand. It’s been a long time since I caught this band live and luckily for me, Belfast is on the upcoming tour. There are a good few tracks on this album to add to the swell of superb heartbreakers in their back catalogue. The Dears have a very distinctive sound and style and as I’ve mentioned a few times, in Murray Lightburn they have an incredible singer whose voice really needs to be heard.

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