I’m Always Touched by Their Presence

New York hearts Canadian bands. We especially heart Montreal (though Toronto is pretty kick-ass too).

Unless your band is The Dears, then New York doesn’t care — just like the Interpol song doesn’t go. It’s not like the band is being slammed and dissed every week in blogs or magazines. They’re just ignored…and I think I know why. They’ve never seen them live. (The Siren Festival doesn’t count.) The production on the Dears’ last album, 2004’s No Cities Left was a little flat, the arrangements a little too fey, and singer Murray Lightburn‘s faux-Brit accent more than a little overplayed. I was unimpressed when I heard it. But at a friend’s urging, I went to see them live (Mercury Lounge, October 2004, opening for the Brian Jonestown Massacre) and was awestruck by how good they were. What a totally charismatic frontman Lightburn was. How much The Dears flat-out rocked and the songs came alive. How much he doesn’t sing like that live.

At that point, No Cities Left clicked for me. I went to see them four more times in the next 12 months. They began playing a couple new songs. One of them — "Gang of Losers" — was so good (is so good), so perfect, you could just imagine hearing it all over the radio once they got around to recording it. If they knocked the studio recording out of the park, that is.

It was also around that time that it was obvious Dears keyboardist/singer Natalia Yanchak was preggers. Murray’s the poppa. (The pair married this summer.) The band was to enter the studio around the same time Natalia was due. The baby (Neptune Rosita Ursula Yanchak Lightburn!) dropped in September. The new album, meanwhile, had yet to begin.

Now that I’ve totally buried the lead, I can report that The Dears’ new, yet-untitled album is most likely in the can. The band produced it themselves, trucking in a load of analog equipment into Murray and Natalia’s house, and recording for the better part of December, January and February.

Murray kept a production diary on the Dears’ website. Most of the
posts were gear-centric, about all the difficulties incurred with using
an old 2" tape 24-tack recorder. But there was some genuine excitement
in there too, with Murray saying, "this record we are making is by far
the most honest, earnest, straight ahead thing we’ve ever done." And in
a world of ProTools, it’s exciting to hear how this album was made:

were few simple rules at the start. You had to play your main track all
the way through, no punch ins or edits or anything like that. In the
end we did do a few punches but there are still a lot of little
mistakes on this record. We could go back and fix them but that would
ruin the point of everything. Joes is always questioning tuning and
timing and stuff but really all we want is a feeling. If you play a
track and everyone feels the energy of the track, that’s the track.
Never mind the mistakes or even a little out of tuneness. I was reading
this Mix magazine and they were talking about this new software that is
kind of a throatalizer. Apparently it makes your voice sound throatier
or some shit. I was aghast. So much music out there is put through a
meat grinder of processing and it makes me wanna barf. I’m really glad
we decided on making an analogue record. We’ve seen so much bullshit.
We don’t want add any more bullshit.

In a Dears mailing list missive from a month ago, Murray wrote:

sounds purposefully unfashionable, full of songs about peace, love and
life on the other side of the tracks. It is becoming our defining
record with tons of personality and very human performances. With the
help of three engineers, the whole thing is being recorded analogue;
that is, 24 track, 2" tape for all you studio geeks. There is a lot
live-y, in the moment stuff. It feels pretty f-ing great and we are
really looking forward to sharing it with you all. Lots of strummy,
dirty, riffy guitars, ridiculous drumming and inventive bass-ing. Tons
of creative synthesising. It couldn’t be a Dears record without that.

And for those put off by his Morrissey-croon, he adds this:

My voice has changed a little. Or a lot. I guess it was all that
touring. Or more subconsciously, the thousands references to Morrissey
and Britpop — gotta forge my own path. We’ll go with the first one,
the touring thing. Everything was written and performed in a way that
will translate really well for live concerts which was utterly
important to us. That said, we are really looking forward to getting
back out there and seeing you all again.

The first glimpse of the newly-charged Dears will likely be Coachella. Meanwhile, check out this full concert shot in Amsterdam last summer. "Gang of Losers" is the first track and the sound and video quality is excellent.

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