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Music Review: The Dears – Degeneration Street

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So back in November of 2008 I had the opportunity to talk to Murray Lightburn of The Dears. The interview went okay, you could say, and it was compelling to see what the band’s vocalist had to say about how Missiles, the Montreal band’s October 2008 release, came to be.

That was then and this is now, of course. Degeneration Street is the new record from The Dears and it’s miles, maybe a million miles away, from Missiles. While Missiles featured Lightburn and keyboardist Natalia Yanchak, Degeneration Street brings the group back up to a six member troupe. Patrick Krief, Rob Benvie, Robert Arquilla, and Jeff Luciani are back under the big tent.

But as Lightburn mentioned when we conversed using the magic of modern technology, “The Dears is singular. It’s a spirit. It moves people on all sides.”

With Degeneration Street, that spirit courses through a series of 14 tracks that will remind many of what life was like when there were No Cities Left. The sound is bigger, venturing away from the stripped-down vibes of Missiles thanks to the fullness the six members bring to the table. There’s passion and boldness filling the spaces and Lightburn, despite his scowling and carrying on, seems pleased to sink his teeth in to these songs.

The passion creates what is ultimately a very dramatic, almost theatrical recording. The swirling guitars and orchestral arrangements are colourfully underlined by Lightburn’s poetic delivery. He’s atop a mountain of the sacred and profane, gesturing wildly with lyrics and vocals that revel in the cliches that seemed so boring not long ago.

This is, it seems to me, the perfect way to suggest that The Dears really are singular. It’s not just pretentious bullshit after all, as the band’s dexterous commitment to the greater good keeps the songs from fitting any particular mould.

“Omega Dog” opens things up with funky guitar and a beat that scatters. Lightburn enters and blends perfectly before other vocals circle around and “shake it together.” Band members seem to enter one by one, with a bass note dropping like a penny before the start of the second verse. It’s a satisfying, sweetly groovy welcome.

“Thrones” has been compared to Pulp, of course. To me, the piece comes across like a sort of road song. As Lightburn sings the rising vocals, passing buildings can be seen if you close your eyes a little. Watching the scattering lights takes a bit more imagination than the obvious comparisons, of course, but The Dears have always cheerfully flung the doors open to visual interpretations. “Give up on heaven,” he sings.

The second half of the record introduces a challenge to listeners. Starting with “Stick w Me Kid,” The Dears engage in a sort of concept album. From the chugging rock anthem that leads it off to the spacious noir of the title track, the last handful of tracks are best taken in one dosage so as to maximize their theatrical impact.

Degeneration Street is wonderfully expressive. A nearly operatic piece of work, the record unfolds with a brave sense of high drama that few bands would attempt. With this singular spirit out of Montreal, however, courage runs in the veins.

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About Jordan Richardson