Friday, 3 October 2008

Review - The Dears - Missiles

I’ve had a tumultuous relationship with The Dears over the last few years, much like they have had with themselves. From their awe inspiring indie master piece that is No Cities Left, seeing them live, and then the received coolly by critics Gang of Losers that was played to death by myself and the disappointment that it was not as good as No Cities Left, before realising that it didn’t need to be, I have travelled in peaks and troughs with this band. Seeing them live for the second time in October 2006, which truly feels like an age ago, was a good point to confirm that I really liked this band but they had their flaws.

So, I had my reservations about their fourth album – my third album with the band. Hearing from various sources, then direct from the band, that things were not going too well back stage was confirmed by the departure of four members, leaving two, was disheartening. When coming into contact with the album early last week I have been slowly gathering my thoughts, having played the album many times in my car, in my work and in the quieter moments, I have decided that this is a fantastic record.

It is dark. There are moments of true despair in these10 tracks, mostly wrapped in a dirty production that harks back to their No Cities Left era. The musicianship is of the highest quality, and the little flourishes of guitar and piano that are sprinkled over the record radically affect the tone and style of the band.

Opener Disclaimer is a good pace setter. It starts dark and slow, adding vocals, with Lightburn crooning in his most desolate style. The album readily calls dark winter nights – these are the nights that I associate with the Dears.

On Lights Off the band let things go, unleashing towards the other end of the quiet-riot spectrum, instead unleashing a rasping guitar solo that is not out of place on a true rock record. The length of the song amplifies the journey to get there, and the moment it hits doesn't jar with the slow, more soft approaches on the album.

The rather insipid Meltdown in a Major was the album's preview and it did little to convince me - and in the album setting, I still feel ambivalent towards it. It doesn't resonate with the rest of the record, though it's story, tellingly, is the most terrifying of the album. The simple piano stabs, filled with dread, add to the dark flavour of the album.

The stand out tracks, however, come with quieter moments and more experiment moments. The second track, after epic Disclaimer as previously mentioned, is subdued and calculated - Dream Job is the kind of song missing from Gang of Losers but was in abundance on No Cities Left. "Here comes another Heartbeat/beating like a drum" softly intones Lightburn, gravitating towards a place not ventured into since Lost in the Plot. It is a great rallying call. The other stand out track sees a vocal performance from the other half of The Dears that survived the recording session, Natalia Yanchak, on Crisis 1 & 2, she evokes a warmer vocal line but is joined in a fantastic twist at the end by Lightburn - much in the same way that exchange works in 22: Death of All the Romance on No Cities Left.

However, for me, the greatest song on the record is Demons; starting with a synth loop the guitar and drums kick in pushing the beat to a faster pace than thought before. The vocal melodies, coupled with the bass line that propels the song forward, hidden in front of the rather out of key strings, act out a dramatic scene in a grand mix between the great rock record of Gang of Losers and the epic of No Cities Left.

In comes to the end, and with out wondering why or how, you have realised that the album is a more complete set of songs than both previous records. You feel the heartache and break that it takes to create an album of this type, and the style changes from the earlier to this work add up to a logical conclusion that makes more sense as a continuation of a previous chapter than a brand new instalment. This is the album The Dears needed to make, and it is very exact in it's execution. It is not the best album of the year, that is so far going to either The Walkmen or Elbow, but it a strong candidate, and reaffirms why I fell in love with Lightburn's vocals and the band's songs in the first place. A very solid record.



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