The Dears Biography
If you want the real story, then we must start in April 2000, when the one original Dear, Murray Lightburn, hit the stage at Lee's Palace in Toronto flanked by a band of new recruits and welcomed us into his world - a place that, like his native Montreal, is built on romance and timeless beauty but scarred with reminders of a golden age that is long gone. Just as the band's orchestral crescendos threatened to collapse the stage, Lightburn dropped to his knees and screamed "There's no such thing as love!" - a dead-serious declaration whose pathos was further intensified by the fact only 20 of us were there to hear it. The band had just released its debut album, End of a Hollywood Bedtime Story, and while few were on hand that night to heed the message, it still reverberates to this day: it's time to get real, to get to the heart of the matter by fearlessly addressing matters of the heart.
The next time The Dears played Lee's Palace, in June 2001, the crowd of 20 had turned to fire-code-defying throng of 700, with hundreds more turned away at the door; in the interim, The Dears had taken the gospel across Canada, stealing hearts and blowing minds, and racking up enough drool-drenched critical notices to firmly enshrine Hollywood as one of the most ambitious and acclaimed debuts in Canadian indie lore. But even as the rest of the country began to take notice of the band's cinematic pop symphonettes, The Dears - featuring Lightburn, keyboardist Natalia Yanchak, bassist Martin Pelland and drummer George Donoso III - were already on a different program. Onstage, the orchestral elegance of HOLLYWOOD had given way to raucous new material that exploded into anarchic feedback fury, while Lightburn's darkly romantic vision assumed increasingly apocalyptic intimations. The second Dears album promised to be a truly seismic event that, if not the stuff of pop-radio countdowns, would at least chart on the Richter Scale.
Like any well-seasoned lovers, they teased us with two EP releases: 2001's Orchestral Pop Noir Romantique, a perfect balance of pure-pop immediacy and sinister symphonics; and 2002's Protest, a harrowing mini-concept-album that rolled operatic hysteria, ominous post-punk rumbling and cosmic Christmas music into a soundtrack to the end of the world. The only thing more unnerving than hearing Lightburn solemnly intone that there was "no hope before destruction" was the knowledge that all this was merely the set-up for what was to come.
Some couldn't stand the wait: they would lose their guitarist and cellist in 2002 (replaced by keyboardist/flautist Valerie Jodoin-Keaton and guitarist Patrick Krief). But then The Dears have always survived and thrived by breaking apart and rebuilding. And it's with that spirit you should approach The Dears' No Cities Left, the greatest and grandest work from a band for whom "epic" seems too a cheap descriptor, the ultimate culmination of the band's unhinged onstage catharsis and studio sophistication. Yes, it's a record about darkness, but only as a precursor to brilliant flashes of light (see: the rousing jangle-pop of "Don't Lose the Faith," the lush, string-swathed funk of "Never Destroy Us," the title track's defiant symphonic send-off). And as if to reinforce the album¹s central theme of hope in the face of horror, the record's coolly dramatic first single, "Lost in the Plot" has been a staple on Canadian rock radio since its release in the spring.
The liner notes say "Written and Produced by Murray A. Lightburn," but this is not some soundtrack to an imaginary film. This is very real. In a modern world that's blurred into an endless series of zeroes and ones, No Cities Left reminds you that your soul is not a dollar sign, that passion should never succumb to process. This music will not be embraced by the faint of heart, the hopelessly cynical or the emotionally insecure. But then, they're the ones who need it the most.
Stuart Berman / Toronto, Ontario