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The Dears, ‘Gang of Losers’ (Arts & Crafts)

It’s true: Montreal’s the Dears are fronted by a black man who sounds exactly like Blur/Gorillaz leader Damon Albarn crooning the Smiths’ songbook — an ear-turning reversal of the usual white appropriation of African American and Jamaican styles. And Murray Lightburn doesn’t flinch from the race issue that comes with his band’s particularly pasty shade of rock. “We ain’t here to steal your women / Or at least that wasn’t planned,” he sneers on “Whites Only Party,” cheekily acknowledging his recent marriage to Dears keyboardist Natalia Yanchak. Throughout the sextet’s third album, Lightburn acknowledges that indie rock both soothes his soul and inflames his alienation. “I hang out with all the pariahs,” he admits in “Ticket to Immortality.” And like obvious idol Morrissey, he tells the story of his estrangement through the album’s song titles: “You and I Are a Gang of Losers,” “Bandwagoneers,” and “There Goes My Outfit.”

With the band creating thick squalls of instrumental claustrophobia live in the studio, Gang of Losers leaves behind the preciousness of 2003’s delicate No Cities Left. It also argues convincingly that the Dears have transcended their initial status as secondhand Brit-poppers, as surely as Blur left behind those nagging Oasis comparisons. Sonically raw but melodically rich, the Dears confront the surface contradictions in their musical identity with a defiance that’s no longer just skin deep. | COMMENT

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