Pop Addict: The Dears’ Degeneration Street

Every Thursday, Pop Addict presents infectious tunes from contemporary musicians across indie rock, pop, folk, electronica, and more.

The Dears: Degeneration StreetThe Dears: Degeneration Street (Dangerbird, 2/15/11)

The Dears: “Blood”

[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/TheDears-Blood.mp3|titles=The Dears: “Blood”]

Following its 2006 tour in support of Gang of Losers, the existence of Montreal indie-rock band The Dears was questionable at best.  A relentless touring and recording schedule fueled tensions within the band, and, despite its success in Canada and abroad, it fractured.

However, lead vocalist and songwriter Murray Lightburn and keyboardist Natalia Yanchak pushed forward, recording the stripped-down Missiles in 2008.  Now it looks to stabilize a relatively rocky period in its 15-year history with its new album, Degeneration Street.

The Dears’ fifth album, Degeneration Street is a reunion of sorts. Guitarists Patrick Krief and Robert Benvie, who departed following the Gang of Losers tour, have returned, as has early-era bassist, Roberto Arquilla. With newcomer Jeff Luciani on drums, this is arguably its most stable lineup in years.

Produced by Tony Hoffer (Beck, Belle and Sebastian, Phoenix), Degeneration Street is an eclectic record, a dizzying collection of 14 songs that aims not just for the arena rafters but for sights so stellar that our best telescopes would need telescopes. The album is nothing if not ambitious; it’s an attempt to corral a few years of desperation, uncertainty, and hope into just under an hour of music.

Murray and company strive for the most epic of moments with each hook and embattled lyric — a sign that the band still feels compelled to combat its own fear of an impending darkness. Despite its veteran status, it willingly adopts this underdog persona, ready to take on the world, even if it means erring on the side of excess.

Degeneration Street brims with passionate, emphatic indie rock. The guitars are as loud as ever, the angst just as pronounced. The Dears’ flair for the dramatic, even the operatic, is evident throughout the album, from the falsetto groove of opening track “Omega Dog” to the sinister crunch of “Stick w/ Me Kid.”

The apocalyptic “Galactic Tides” is perhaps the best example of Degeneration Street’s wide-reaching scope. The track starts with a lonely, parochial organ, as Lightburn softly coos, “Longing for love / hunting down souls / we’re running out / of songs to sing” — a fitting message, given the band’s tumultuous last few years. Lightburn continues on, slipping into falsetto to sing, “Galactic tides / will end our lives,” the first of many dark, prophetic refrains.

The music, however, builds to something more heavenly. A wash of strings, an angelic female choir, and a couple of wailing guitar solos suggest that, though the end might be approaching, The Dears plans to put up a fight. As Lightburn draws the song to a close, now screaming, “Galactic tides / will end our lives,” we can feel him fighting against a deep gravitational pull, exerting every last ounce of energy to keep from getting swallowed up into the darkness.

With the orchestra swelled and the guitars continuing on their meteoric trace, it’s clear that The Dears isn’t prepared to save anything for album number six, should the world, or just the band, end tomorrow.

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