You can catch The Dears doing live performances of “Yesteryear”, “Thrones”, “Blood” and “5 Chords” (video) on Oregon Public Broadcasting HERE. There’s a 2 part interview as well, but you may not notice it as it’s audio-only and sort of at the bottom of the page. Also be sure to check out the newly (and nicely) re-designed TheDears.org HERE. The performances are great, but a little messed up in places by a bad mix (where are the keys hiding?) . Overall, really good though. My fave is probably Blood, one of the best tracks from Degeneration Street, which is by far their best album yet. See my review of it HERE. I really hope they come back through California again.
I like the OPB music site, too. There you will find studio sessions with a variety of artists including Annuals, Blitzen Trapper, The Decemberists, Foreign Born, Loney Dear, M. Ward, Neko Case, Patrick Watson, Viva Voce, The Wooden Birds, and tons more. Many of them very , very good. I especially liked the Loney Dear session. Dig in, it’ll be worth it.
My expectations for this album were high. Very high. Their last album Missles, for me, was a masterpiece. Others didn’t agree. Most of them, in fact. (maybe even me at first) Even some fans disliked it. (and to demonstrate that, sort of, even in a few of the good reviews of the new album, some show that they are not even paying attention, with comparisons to Coldplay ??!!?? and TV on The Radio, which hints of a non-musical comparison in my humble opinion, if you get my drift) But for me, it was a grow-er, not a show-er. It was subdued, reflective and all the other words you use to describe something not quite as loud and flamboyant as the last thing one of your favorite artists created. The tracks were wonderful, and to me, perfect. But they also held a promise. A bit like that ugly duckling, except we’re clued in on what that duck really is. Now all we have to do is wait and watch everyone else discover what’s to come. Now that wait is over and The Dears have become part what they were, part what they turned into and part something entirely new. Some have failed to see it that way, sure. But then again some of those same people prefer to listen to what sounds like the Beach Boys finding a software synth and recording their music in a broom closet with a mini-cassette recorder* with towels over their mouths. I guess I mean… I wasn’t too surprised. Degeneration Street is in my opinion the culmination of everything The Dears have done right over the years, finally captured and executed fearlessly.
I wanted to wait a period of time before writing anything about this album, I wanted to get inside it and listen to it’s dark corners, to be able to know it rather than just be familiar. I must make a small disclaimer here, I am a Fan. (yes, with a capital F) But this album is too good, too right for this moment in time to discard my opinion just because I’ve loved what they’ve done in the past.
I was first clued in to what was coming when I found THIS video one day on YouTube, a live recording from their residency shows in Mexico City, playing their entire new album for a live audience far before its release. Pretty unheard of. What I saw was new, strong (and loud) material from a band that seemed to be playing as if their lives depended on it, except with wide, knowing grins. There’s a moment in the video when Krief gets a look on his face that seems to be saying “am I here? AND a part of this? Nice!”, a moment that it all seems to have dawned on him. The passion was palpable from just that one video. You could cut the enthusiasm in the room (the band and audience) with a knife. I don’t think you have to be a fan to get chills from watching it for the first time. Then the second, third, and fourth times. The Dears have never been this good live, period. Close, but no cigar. They have either found their passion again, or they spent some serious time in the “shed”, rehearsing the songs and playing together for hours at a time, for weeks without days off. They sound renewed. And Omega Dog is a perfect example, both its live and studio versions. The drums are front and center, then that familiar guitar kicks in. It slowly progresses into a grandiose showcase for the guitar-freak-out talents of Patrick Krief perfectly juxtaposed before a bed of tape-strip choir voices/strings in the Mellotron style, then a digital harpsichord overtaken by space-out synth/effect noise and an onslaught of bass and drums. Then the abrupt end. What a pay-off.
This makes way on the album to the more familiar Dearsiness of “5 Chords”, which delivers the romanticism they’re famous for. Then “Blood”, the second track previewed before the album’s release, (another with a great live version you can see HERE), contains a bit of that different stuff I was mentioning. It’s louder, harder and very in your face while keeping that Dears catchiness and pop genius. This track really puts it out there, front and center, that this is by far the best sounding Dears album so far. The mix pops in just the right places. “Thrones” follows strongly in spite of my inability to decipher it lyrically. Perhaps another metaphor for the band’s past troubles? “Lamentation” feels like it would belong on Missiles, at first. But on Missiles the track would have stuck with the tone of the first two minutes, never moving out of it’s (beautiful) comfort zone. Instead it explodes in unexpected directions. “Torches” is a short interlude (instrumental), leading into what I consider the real standout of the album, “Galactic Tides”. My god, this is nearly prog! Epic epicness at an epic scale. There’s not much here lyrically, but what is there counts. It feels pessimistic and gloomy, but in a beautiful, large way. As if to cheer us up, next we get “Yesteryear”, an upbeat, uplifting track with a Holland-Dozier-Holland beatstyle. But with a chorus that would have made those guys flee the room, perhaps even in fear (in a good way, from today’s perspective). Then in this same track, we have a middle section with a Beatlesque vocal interlude. And on a side note, is it misery or mercy? Or maybe both? In “Stick With Me, Kid”, we get what The Dears are great at, the romantic, triumphant, scream-along-in-the-crowd anthem.
“I will run, till there’s nowhere left to run.
I will love, till there’s no-one left to love.”
Trust me, if you ever get the chance to see this one live, you’ll pump your fist in the air and sing along. In the past, this track could have easily aped the lo-fi, back to basics era of Blur, but this is a Dears that has moved past, if not beyond, their influences to arrive in a place of their own. And they deserve credit for it. Damn it. This is one track that ends too soon and probably could have used another minute of sing-along anthemic goodness and some more of that Krief magic at the end.
While “Tiny Man” is probably my least favorite track, musically, it is a great song. It makes me think about the world as it is now, how we can feel like there’s no place to feel.. not necessarily safe.. but truly free to live lives rather than feeling like you’re constantly fighting just to stay alive and healthy within four walls. The lyrics feel like a fantasy escape, perhaps the kind of escape every father or husband fantasizes for his family and loved ones, in which he finally finds a way to protect and shelter, away from the fears and dangers of the world. Where nothing bad happens, materialism never corrupts, and they will want for nothing. An ark into space to planet perfect, where the children can “grow and no-one will know”.
“Easy Suffering” could easily fit on “No Cities Left”, as could “Unsung”, especially when the change comes and Natalia gets another shot at the mic in the latter. Lovely song, with a Radiohead-esque intro (without aping them) and a nice big finish. So many of these songs seem to me to be talking directly about the band itself, none more-so than “1854”, with it’s common Dears theme of not giving up, no matter what. Echoes of “Never Destroy Us” are present, but subtly. Musically, it’s far away and above that track.
“We will surrender, at the sight of frozen hell..
and we will surrender, on the last ring of the bell…”
Another Dears anthem, and it works. Chills. All the way to the strangely familiar sounding ending that I can’t put my finger on. Then there’s that last ring of the bell. Perfect. Of course you cannot ignore the title of the song, which refers to the year of the Kansas-Nebraska act and the first Lincoln-Douglas debate (before they ran against each other), where Lincoln first laid out his reasoned argument against slavery. How it must have felt, knowing that a semblance of freedom may be just around the corner, yet just out of reach. They probably realistically hoped only for their children, or their children’s children. Maybe I’m reading too much into it. In any case, chills again.
The title track ends the album beautifully. What a showcase for Murray’s voice this is. And there’s a guitar bit in there that sounds like a cross between Brain May and Robert Fripp, with a limp. It all ends far too soon, like so many great things. (unlike this review, har har) And we are left wondering how long it will be before we get another Dears album, as well as who will be on it. I really, really hope they can keep this lineup together this time around. It’s magical. It will be hard to top this one. No, I don’t mean The Dears. I mean everyone else.
It would be far too easy to simply say that The Dears have “matured”, a term usually having more to do with comfort and a kind of settling when it comes to music. A term used by people who still revere their heroes, but are afraid to tell them they’re getting stale. No, I think The Dears are actually late bloomers, just now reaching their peak and finding their real voices. Let’s hope this is just the beginning and we get to keep The Dears around for a long time to come. Long live The Dears.
(you can still download “Blood” from the Dangerbird site by giving them an e-mail address, and “Omega Dog, as well as other tracks, all over the blogosphere, but really you should buy this masterpiece, as the CD sounds magnificent!)
And this just in! Great live session on KEXP, short interview, 4 songs.
*The first time I heard one of these, it was interesting. The second and third time is was quaint, a novelty. From the fourth onward, I wanted to claw my ears out with the broken, jagged keys of a Casiotone like a smoke-stained, over-sized plastic q-tip. Enjoy it, embrace it, love it while it’s here, but please stop worshiping it. I’m not putting a name to this genre because far too many good artists have been labeled using the same label as this dreck. So speculate away, bitches. I’m not playing. Lo-fi all you want, but when you use the same instruments, the same settings and the same vocal affectations…even the same beats… it gets real old, real fast. Parts of the 80s were fun, sure. But parts of them were also repetitive, forced and duplicative.
I was transported by the new video by The Dears, Omega Dog. To a very, very good place. If you watch closely, you will see the effect was felt by all. The band and the audience that attended their live residencies in Mexico (to perform the new album in its entirety) are lost in the music. You can see the band being sent off to a place of musical ecstasy. Each one in their own place, yet connected by invisible strings. It’s palpable! Just look…
How I wish I could have been there to see it happen in real time. Finally, The Dears feel like a band again. Not that I’m complaining about the past few years. Some of the intervening material is inarguably their best, even if the critical community has taken its time to recognize it. Gang of Losers was a masterpiece that defied expectations for the band and came closest to getting them the attention they deserved. It borrowed from the recent and distant past without coming off as nostalgic bull-crap. I guess you could say they found the essence of what made the pop and rock music of the past work without actually doing much direct cribbing. *Missiles caught pretty much everyone off guard. The fans, the critics. Even me. For about..a week. And then it started sinking in. Now I can barely get through a day without at least one track from it being heard all the way through. Artists could reap great rewards if they recognized Missiles as the well of inspiration it is. At first difficult, like much truly great art, then so obvious after some time, you wonder how you could have missed it in the first place. Like passing over a Van Gogh at a garage sale. It plays huge and it plays sparse. It feels like a blues “cry for help” and stands alongside the best headphone albums of the past and present. I could go on and on about Missiles. But this is a new Dears. Tougher, raw, direct. LIVE. The Dears transcend.
The song is fantastic, starting small and building to a near freak-out, then pulling back before it dive-bombs right back into Krief-powered guitar acid-flashback territory. And this man just may be at his peak right about now. Amazing work here. Murray sounds as perfect as always. Can you tell I’m a fan? You just have to stop reading this drivel right now and listen.
Watch the video … HERE … now!
And I have not even mentioned the video itself. Perfect match of visuals to music. This is a lesson in editing and the capturing of a live performance visually. It can be hard to catch with the naked eye, but as you can see by the above captures, you can stop the video at almost any place and find a beautifully composed portrait. The video was directed, shot and edited by Michael Mohan. Fantastic work! The way it was shot and edited, all the right moments seem to be included in just the right order to convey the chemistry in the room at that moment in time. It’s a real treat to see someone truly grasp a performance,the little moments of joy and even indulgences that make for a perfect show. Now I have to go watch all his other stuff.
and P.S. – Murray is daring us to request that he play one of the new tracks from the now mastered new album. If he gets 1000 requests, he’ll do it at a specified time. Sadly, even though I followed The Dears on Tumblr and liked the post, I’m still not sure if that counts as a “request” and I cannot figure out how to add text to my “like” (never have, not on the Dears Tumblr anyway). Big, big saddy face. I guess I’ll e-mail the request to them as well to make sure my vote is counted. I hope he plays the song anyway. We’re dyin’ out here! If the other tracks are anywhere close to the quality of Omega Dog, we’re in for a gigantic treat. I really don’t think anyone is going to think it’s “terrible”. Not even close. Not even close.
*Missiles is on sale for 5.99 at iTunes right about now. Good time to grab it.
The Dears came into my life during a time that was very transitional for me. Not that there are times in a person’s life that are NOT transitional, this was just one of those times when I was viscerally aware of it. In the midst of various personal losses and the drying of my own creative well, I had grown very tired of music. Radio had gone stale, I was surrounded by people who were mostly obsessed with their nostalgic comforts and I was about to just give up and throw in the towel in regard to many things. The Dears then snuck up on me. Like I’m sure a few others felt at the time (right around when “Lost in the Plot” was getting a lot of airplay and critics were being a little more lazy than usual), I instantly got a very Morrissey/Blur* vibe from The Dears. But then I heard “We Can Have It” and I knew there was so much more to this band than the kind of cheap, lazy references critics reach for at the bottom of their mostly pilfered idea bags. Here was simply an artist who was not afraid to wear some of his influences on his sleeve. But that track struck me, hard. When Murray and the rest sang the words, “you’re not alone” it felt like a warm blanket wrapped around me by a kind stranger after surviving a cinematic disaster/car crash. Like the closing crane shot of a blockbuster disaster film, the camera pulling up into the sky away from my body reclining on a stretcher. It was just what I needed at the moment, and I never forgot. It didn’t promise me the future would be okay, but it comforted me like a friend. Even if we might not all get what we planned for, someone out there would have my back and in the end at least I’d have that. Perhaps that’s an over-share. But oh well. It meant something to me. And when I listen to a Dears album, I can sense that they are at least a little aware of their utility in this regard.
The Dears, for me, are as close as I’ll probably ever get to a musical religious experience. There are few bands out there now that have that certain special something extra (no, not “tracts of land”), an intangible “thing” that you know is there but cannot put a finger on. And their albums are ALBUMS, rather than just collections of songs with some throw-aways added to pad it out. You can tell attention, thought and real consideration was paid to the order of the tracks. This is most obvious immediately on Gang of Losers, and less immediate but still absolutely true with Missiles. You can tell they care about making the kind of album that made them fall in love with music. Maybe it’s a Canadian thing, but they also achieve the difficult task of seeming both iconic and mysterious yet approachable and like-able. It’s a hard balance, and I can think of no other artists making albums right now that come across that same way. Some come close, sure. Still, no-one does it quite like The Dears. Music itself is so lucky that these people made it through all their struggles to survive and prosper artistically. Now is their time to prosper on all levels. And from what I hear, this next Dears album might be the breakthrough they’ve already earned.
With each new Dears release, my love for them grows exponentially. I have yet to see them live, coming close with a show in SF on the 2008 tour. A show that ended up being a memorable one for those who attended. At that particular show, the power(or rather, the lights?) went off and Murray took the stage for a short acoustic set, lit by flashlight (evidence of which can be viewed HERE and part 2 HERE). I will forever kick myself for missing that one. Towards the end of that second clip I can tell that if I were there, the power coming back on would have been a little bittersweet. Talk about intimacy! When they tour again, I will NOT miss it unless they somehow entirely skip the west coast and northern California. (beg!, plead!, please please! play Sacramento or Davis!! And please play HalfMast live!) Which brings me to the point of this post…
HalfMast (or is it Half-Mast?) continues to blow my mind. How it was left off the album Missiles is beyond me. I originally wrote a long, drawn out description of the song which was over 2000 words and , well, .. was just a drawn-out and pretentious sounding mess. It was to be the first of a planned series involving deep analysis and criticism of single tracks by various bands I love and like. After finishing that first one, I realized I had created a really horrible, long-winded monster that ended up sounding nothing like my voice and far too rock-critic-ey. It might as well have started off with “I have seen the future of rock and roll and its name is…”. Yep, That douchey. (I am not dissing the legacy of Mr Bangs, it worked for HIM) Instead I’ll just describe my first listen and how the song has grown on me, which might just be why it was left off Missiles. See, this is a song that on first listen might not seem right at all. And I don’t mean “not right” as in a Bono-Frank Sinatra duet, I mean “not right” as in the first time people heard Bohemian Rhapsody or Space Oddity on the radio. A good kind of “not right”. Like much of Missiles, it takes attention and repeat listens to reveal its genius. Missiles is one hundred percent a Dears album, absolutely, but it’s different and much more challenging to the listener. A great, striking but off-putting album by first full listen, a classic by the third and perfection by the tenth. By the 11th listen, it’s the best Dears album(so far). Murray Lightburn has called Missiles a blues album, and now I can say rightly so. I agree. Not stylistically as much as spiritually. Existential blues, perhaps. And HalfMast fits right in. The song feels like three songs. Starting with a great drum beat, pummeling the toms, it leads into traditional song form, to a bit of a midsection misdirection they are famous for, featuring the line seen in their (GREAT) documentary “somebody get me a bullet-proof vest, I think I’m running for president” via megaphone, then takes off on another journey into sparse,baritone harmony. And in true Dears form it becomes something entirely different, with the seductive yet distant, almost lamenting (the chant of trauma) “I’ve got the moves… to turn you on” again on what sounds like a megaphone. As it builds, we hear some of the best overlaid guitar solo work in Dears history. In other words, it would have been perfect for Missiles. And I think it’s my duty to “beg and plead” that it be included somewhere on CD, where we can finally hear it in all it’s mostly uncompressed, un-mp3’d glory. Is it? Out there somewhere? On a soundtrack or compilation? (or if not, maybe release in the loss-less FLAC format? I’d pay for that.)
Well, I guess that was still a tiny bit pretentious. But wow, you should have read the other one. (I might have even used that word Dangerbird used, magniloquent) So I’ll shut up now and let you listen for yourself. I think you’ll agree.. they’ve got the moves. (was that cheesy for me to type? Sounds like something a cheesy Top 40 DJ would say.)
The_Dears-Halfmast (right-click, save as) (track posted with direct permission)
*Morrissey is, in my opinion, one of the best lyricists as well as one of the unique voices in pop and rock history. If you grew up listening to him and found your voice took on some of his qualities, I say embrace it. It makes you far more unique than the millions of people who have aped the voices and harmonies of the various Beatles intentionally or otherwise. But as far as BLUR goes, it can be hard to avoid sounding a bit like that if you have a long habit of worshiping brit-pop, as Damon Albarn has embraced the history of the genre in his own voice. Chances are, rather than accuse yourself or others of aping him, it’s far more accurate to just realize he himself is most likely aping that history a bit. And there is the unavoidable fact that he is actually Brit-ish. Having said all that, I feel a bit guilty even mentioning the comparisons again. It’s got to be getting old now. The band has come into its own in a huge way. I just felt like setting the record straight from my own perspective. For what that’s worth.
P.S. – If you read this, please make the next album a double. The world needs larger chunks of Dears. As long as said chunks don’t block out the sun or come crashing down on the planet, making John Cusack drive an RV like a flaming maniac to avoid its debris.