Review: The Dears Explore Uncertain Times on the Pensive, Melodic Times Infinity Volume Two
If you’ve ever witnessed a tornado, one of the most telling signs of looming danger and destruction is the chartreuse green sky that precedes the storm. There is a lyric on the Dears’ new album, Times Infinity Volume Two, that adeptly captures the hazardous feeling of looking out at the sky during the calmer moments of a storm, knowing things are bad and you’re definitely not emerging on the other side yet. “Come in before the moment exhausts our love,” sings Murray Lightburn on “1998,” as a dark, plucky bass rhythm pulses beneath like an irregular heartbeat. There is a sound of weariness in his voice, as well as the knowledge it can only get worse before it gets better.
The Dears have been around since 1995, coming up up in the early 2000s Canadian indie renaissance alongside bands like Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire and others. Volume Two, their seventh studio album, follows 2015’s Times Infinity Volume One, which steeped a wider, more experimental variety of sonic textures in urgency—it felt a little more hopeful, if not optimistic. Volume Two mimics the more uncertain times we find ourselves in, expressing its anxieties through pensive harmonies and mystifying melodic lines in minor keys. More often than not, songs begin darkly. “Don’t mind the apocalypse,” Lightburn and Natalia Yanchak sing on “Taking It to the Grave,” building into an all-things-go band ballad. “Nothing in It for Me Nothing in It for You” progresses similarly, from a solemn “la-la” intro, adding guitars and drums and some more atmospheric synth textures toward the end.
These moments of doom and gloom come with lyrical appeals to religion and plenty of brooding organ, but the album never retreats too far into the coffin. “1998,” the most danceable song, mimics an Amy-Winehouse-circa-“Valerie” groove but adds a gorgeous metallic guitar riff and finds solace in its key lyric: “This is being alive.” Moments of warmth and simplicity slip in here and there, as on “Guns on Knives,” where synth strings empower an acoustic guitar and a boom-chuck kick and snare rhythm.
Though the album’s lyrics are occasionally vague, the moments of specificity induce raised eyebrows. “I want all of you to leave us alone” exclaims Yanchak on “I’m Sorry That I Wished You Dead,” an antecedent to the unusually uplifting arrangement. “I’ve learned some things should be left unsaid / so I’m sorry that I wished you dead,” she sings, sheepishly. It’s an apology you’d probably only make within a comfortably established union, and the duo have been married since 2005. You might think being in a band with your significant other sounds like a living nightmare, but in between the turmoil they reiterate their love for each other in ways that might ring maudlin were they not simply true. (There is a song called “I Love You Times Infinity,” for example.)
Despite their longevity, the band isn’t yet immune to doubts and darkness. Volume Two at times feels like a testament to Yanchak and Lightburn’s marriage, but also to the unity and solace sought within any community when times are tough. The album’s best moments are oxymoronic, when the Dears pair upbeat arrangements with sooty lyrics, or vice versa. They’re trying to figure out how to exist in this day and age while standing their ground—not an uncommon struggle, but a human one.