The power that we’ve come to expect from the Dears isn’t there, and sometimes the songs seem underbaked, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a worthwhile album.
It’s a mystery why the Canadian alternative rockers the Dears haven't received the same amount of acclaim as their countrymen Arcade Fire. After all, the Dears have released a string of albums every bit as strong as Arcade Fire, but they’ve never really been able to break through on a large scale. They perpetually bubble under the surface, releasing one great album after another, appreciated by their die-hard fans and critics but unknown to the general public. Alas, their latest effort is unlikely to change this equation.
Times Infinity Volume One is a generally strong effort, but it’s perhaps not on par with their greatest works, 2003’s No Cities Left and 2008’s Missiles. It’s a dense rock album with rich layers of sound that has a bit of a different vibe than what we’ve heard from them before. It opens with the rattling urgency of “We Lost Everything”, with a clanging guitar part that shatters restlessly over the skittery rhythm. “I Used to Pray for the Heavens to Fall” sounds like a more traditional Dears song, heavy on the melodrama and with a powerful vocal by Murray Lightburn. It’s shifting dynamics from theatrical rock to jittery funk/pop is an interesting musical contrast. “To Have and To Hold” features a lovely string arrangement over the dramatic lovelorn imagery.
“You Can’t Get Born Again” is one of the best tracks, thanks to a chilly keyboard and a new wave vibe over a loping beat. It does fade away rather suddenly, though, as if it runs out of steam. “Here’s to the Death of All the Romance” harkens back to their classic track “22 and the Death of All Romance” from their brilliant 2003 album No Cities Left. It doesn’t quite have the same profound sense of drama, and it fades away a bit too quickly; it’s here and gone before it really makes much of an impact. “Someday All This Will Be Yours” is an acoustic-based number with one of Lightburn’s strongest vocals on the album. By and large, though, he’s more remote than on past Dears albums. He’s a powerhouse vocalist, and while that strength comes through at times, the moments are fleeting. There’s nothing like the yearning brilliance of “Meltdown in A Major” from the band’s stunning 2008 album Missiles. Times Infinity Volume One feels more detached overall, less piercingly direct and emotional.
The best of Times Infinity Volume One is saved for the final third of the album. “Face of Horrors” has a ghoulish musical vibe, with spooky organ whirring behind the ominous guitar riffs and swirls of guitar. Lightburn delivers perhaps the best vocal on the album, and the harmonies during the chorus are simply divine. “Face of Horrors” is one track that certainly will stand up as a new Dears classic. “Hell Hath Frozen In Your Eyes” is a solemn, slow-burning emotional epic, with Lighburn’s piercing baritone expressive and tense over the haunting musical accompaniment. It builds to a finale that almost builds to a fever-pitch but, as is a recurring theme on this album, it seems to fade away a bit too quickly. Keyboardist Natalia Yanchak takes the lead vocals on the album’s closing track, “Onward and Downward.” Her voice is lovely -- somewhat in the vein of Aimee Mann -- and the song is sweetly melodic. “In the end, one will die alone / In the end, we will die alone", she repeats, philosophically. It seems she’s saying that if we’re all going to die alone eventually, we may as well make what connections we can while we have the chance. It’s arguably the strongest track on the album.
It’s also an oddly short album, at barely 38 minutes -- perhaps there will be a Times Infinity Volume Two. The power that we’ve come to expect from the Dears just isn’t quite there, and sometimes the songs seem underbaked. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s not a worthwhile album. The Dears are such a talented band of songwriters and musicians that even when they are not at their very best, there’s still plenty to explore that’s well worth your time.