Friday, January 28, 2005

The Dears - No Cities Left

I can remember when it all started, it was the fall of 2001 and I had just turned the tender age of 20 when I discovered The Strokes, who I instantly fell in love with, as did thousands of other kids looking for something new in music. It turned out that "new" was just digging up the 70s garage-rock sound and playing it for a new generation, and even though I knew it, I didn't care, I wasn't around in the 70s and it all sounded new to me. The White Stripes were the only worthwhile act to emerge from that dark time that began not long after The Strokes tasted their first success. Major labels grabbed onto anything that sounded raw and any band with a name that started with "The." I'm not even going to start a list as 99% of those bands are not even worthy of being mentioned just a few years later.

One day, about a year after our story began, when the major labels were still caught up in who could be the first to sign whoever was hot that day, Matador records released an album that focused its influences in another place entirely. Interpol's Turn on the Bright Lights sounded incredibly fresh and new to me on its first listen, and it was unlike anything I'd ever heard before (hey, I still hadn't heard Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen or Gang of Four yet). As time passed, and other 80s influenced bands like The Rapture, !!!, The Stills and even Franz Ferdinand put out great music, I began to think that anything 80s-inspired had to be solid gold. I finally even went back to discover the bands that inspired this new movement and I couldn't get enough of it, that is, until one fateful day in May of 2004.

I had been reading about this new up and coming band called The Killers, and I couldn't wait to see them at Coachella after they'd been lumped in with this new batch of bands that I loved so much. I walked up to the stage inside one of the tents, expecting to be wowed, but three songs into the set, I couldn't help thinking to myself, "My God, these guys . . . SUCK." I didn't know what to do, my whole life had been turned upside down, here was a band inspired by 80s new-wave that just wasn't good, it went against everything I knew, that is, until I sat back and realized what had happened. The Killers were the first band of this group to be releasing their debut on a major label, and though it had taken much longer this time around, we were experiencing a rehash of the "The" band phenomena of two years earlier. So please, heed my warning, not every band being hyped by the press as the next Interpol is good, be wary of new bands like The Bravery and others who release their debuts on major labels without any indie cred behind them, they will likely turn out to be The Killers version 2.0.

Now you may ask how this relates to The Dears, who are not, in fact, on a major label, well it does somewhat, but I also have been looking for this opportunity to make that rant. The Dears' lead singer, Murray Lightburn, has been dubbed by the press as "the black, Canadian Morrissey," so it's pretty easy to figure out where this band's influences lie. One listen to "Don't Lose the Faith" lets you know exactly where these comparisons are coming from. The album begins quite strongly with "We Can Have It" which opens with Lightburn singing over a light keyboard backing. Two minutes in, the rest of the band joins in with a haunting guitar riff carrying the song to a stellar climax before the band fades out leaving Lightburn to finish the song alone. The next two songs, "Who Are You, Defenders of the Universe" and the first single "Lost in the Plot" are pure new-wave pop goodness. "Lost in the Plot" features an awesome breakdown where we find Lightburn crooning "Our love, don't mess with our love/Our love is so much stronger" over and over until his band builds up to an amazing release in the chorus. "The Second Part" is pretty standard Mozzer-slow song fare, and the aforementioned "Don't Lose the Faith" comes right back in afterwards to pick the pace right back up. But just as you start to get excited about this album, it takes a drastic turn for the worse and never quite recovers the momentum it had built over the first five songs.

Suddenly, we enter a whole new world where songs refuse to be shorter than 6 minutes, musical excesses dominate and choruses are either nonexistent or few and far between. For example, "Expect the Worst/'Cos She's a Tourist" incorporates a choir and a Pink Floydian second half complete with a full horn section that ends up coming off like Lightburn's musical masturbation. The album continues down this slippery slope over the next few songs until it levels off with "22: The Death of All Romance" where Lightburn and keyboardist Natalia Yanchak pull off a marvelous duet (and what can I say, I'm a sucker for the whole male/female vocal harmony thing). It then continues to slip and closes out with another Morrissey-inspired tune, the mediocre "No Cities Left."

I guess you can only take the love of an indie-rock icon so far before it becomes old hat, but oddly enough, The Dears are at their best when they try to emulate other bands and lose focus when they try to create their own sound. Perhaps it's a sign of things to come for music in 2005, capitalizing on the latest trend in music and ignoring a little thing called creativitiy. It's rather unfortunate that only a year ago, I was excited about all these new bands who were coming down the pipeline, where now, I've already started to grow jaded with this whole 80s-revival business. I guess that's partly why I've turned to bands like the Arcade Fire, who are exceedingly orginal, to console me.

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