Sad Sacks 

Canada’s The Dears turn mope rock into grand cinematic art

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The story goes something like this: Natalia Yanchak was working as a DJ in some Montreal dive bar. And by DJing, I mean she loaded up the disc changer and hit the random button. That left her time to drink. A lot of time. Long enough to sit and listen to some friend-of-a-friend one night, a guy named Murray Lightburn, moan about his band The Dears while he got completely pissed.


Of course, it wasnt going well. People problems, mostly. But the band was completely awesome. Majestic and epic and symphonic and romanticpretty much every positive ic word you can think of. At least thats what Murray said.

From there, you know the routine: He asks her to come to a show. She does. Thinks its killer. He asks her to join the bandshe plays keyboards, by the way. She says yes because, as she puts it, I think hes a fking genius. Guess the rest of the band didnt agree with that assessment, because after The Dears recorded their debut disc, The End of the Hollywood Bedtime Story, they all bolted.

But really, thats not the important stuff here. Its what happened after that that matters. The dead time, when there was no band, no shows, no record deal. Yanchak kept pushing. We recorded the first album and then the band fell apart, she says. No one wanted to put the album out and everyone was depressed. Everyone just left. It was just Murray and me, and I said, Fk it. Were going to put this album out. Wed worked so hard on it, and we really believed in the music and the possibility. We just had to make it happen.

It was one of those momentsthat instant in the movies when the hero realizes that he can change, make a difference, get the girl, whatever. Yanchak and Lightburn suddenly realized they could do it. They could get a new band. They could get a record deal. They could finally make those teenage rock-star dreams finally come true, gold records and all. There might as well have been a light bulb over someones head and a shower of balloons.

And they did make it happenand maybe more. They got the first album out, which was little more than a blip here in the United States, but a hit in The Dears native Canada. More importantly, though, it reeked of that possibility Yanchak was talking about. Lightburn can write songs that are gigantic and awe-inspiring, like some Gothic skyscraper that towers above you. Theyre swelled-up with soundsynthetic string sections, horns, harmonies, just plain grandeur. But Lightburn also has a way of constructing those goliaths on human level, full of love, heartbreak and longing. The only problem was that Bedtime Story played like it was a trailer for an epic film Lightburn had yet to shoot.

With last years No Cities Left, though, Lightburn released his would-be blockbuster. And he knew it. Maybe thats why hes listed as writer and director in the discs credits. Or maybe hes just gotten a bit pretentious, which all considered isnt a bad thing. You cant pull off this kind of music without being a bit snobbish and self-important. This stuff is the London Suede with Pink Floyds budget and drugs. Its The Smiths if Johnny Marr cared about more than his guitar and Morrissey was willing to occasionally scream to make a point.

Like Lost in the Plot. Its an anthem for the eternally mopey. Lightburn sings lines like, Its the same old plot to these things, as if he just picked himself up off the floor long enough to spread some bad cheer. Expect the Worst/Cos Shes a Tourist is even more damning. Theres a full choir in the background to add punch to Lightburns grief, and more than a few swerves to keep you wondering where the ride is going. Ultimately, though, the title gives it awayand the results are both stunning and heartbreaking. And maybe rate as something more than just pop music.

I dont think our songs are that complicated or complex, Yanchak says. Theres a simplicity to them, to the emotion. Which is all that were after. We just want to make music that can make a difference. We want to communicate with people, and as cheesy as it sounds, we want to make the world a better place. And if we can do that, then weve succeeded. And I think thats something that nine times out of 10 you cant do with a simple pop song. You need something more, which we try to do, but you have to keep the emotion simple.

Besides, she continues, if we all just played pop songs, music wouldnt really exist anymore. THE DEARS Urban Lounge 241 S. 500 East Monday, May 30 10 p.m. 746-0558

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Jeff Inman

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