Most musicians are driven to prove just how cool they can be. Montreal collective the Dears take the contrary approach. Case in point: They named their latest album, due October 3rd, Gang of Losers.
“It was just a flippant remark you’d say about a group of people,” says lead singer Murray Lightburn of the geeked-out title. “But really after much more thought, it became a metaphor for something a little more profound. I think there are so many groups of people and things that make other people feel exclusive, [and] one of the things we’re trying to do is transcend that.”
If its title doesn’t clearly expose the disc’s choice subject, it’s this: exploring what it means to be an outsider. In conversation, Lightburn readily and repeatedly calls his band a “motley bunch,” explaining that audiences — especially Americans — may be challenged when listening to and seeing the Dears. “Image-wise, people don’t know how to deal with the Dears,” Lightburn says. “There’s two chicks in the band and the black guy’s singing.”
Musically, there shouldn’t be much debate. On the lean but lush Gang of Losers, the Dears strip away much of the orchestral bombast that colored earlier releases, including 2004’s psychedelic gem No Cities Left. “We’ve recorded with strings and horns and at some point, getting down to some basic shit and focusing on songs, I think that was the focal point of this album,” Lightburn says. “Everyone’s just kind of wailing on [the songs] and filling out space and telling their own story on their instrument. Conceptually, embellishments are just not where we’re at.”
If anything, this pared-down approach grants the album more accessibility, and it teems with immediate winners: Lightburn’s voice soars on “Hate Then Love,” and the churning “Ticket to Immorality” rides on a big, hooky chorus. Lyrically, the album tackles feelings of marginality, with Lightburn’s delicate confession, “I hang out with all the pariahs.” Two notable exceptions to the stripped-down directive: a gorgeous French horn bit (courtesy of fellow Canadian indie-rocker Chris Seligman of Stars) and some exuberant tenor horn noodling by Lightburn’s father, Reverend William Lightburn, at the end of the slinky “Find Our Way to Freedom.”
His father’s sonic contribution to the album illustrates the communal spirit that Lightburn says permeated the recording sessions. “Every night we’d move the microphones, set up the dining room table and there would be ten of us eating at this tiny table and we would have a meal together. Then we’d go back to work.”
The same principles guiding the band’s recording process provide a conscious throughline on the album. Says Lightburn, “I think this record is meant for everyone. We wanted to make a unifying, non-exclusive album. So if there’s any hope, we’re extending a hand and we only hope a hand comes back.”
The Dears will preview new material on a short September club tour, followed by a proper North American tour in November.