Sometimes there are albums that you really want to like. You really do. You keep giving it a chance and say, “You know what, the second, third and fourth time this will probably be an awesome album.” Sometimes it is. But No Cities Left is not. You could say that this album is, to use a phrase that is thrown around constantly, “highly anticipated.” Rolling Stone said Montreal’s The Dears are one of the new bands to watch. They missed the mark on this one. The most accurate description of Murray A. Lightburn’s band is ‘drab.’ The stuff is boring. The Smiths heavily influence Lightburn, and the somewhat recent beatification of the Smiths and Morrissey could be one of the reasons for the Dears’ buzz. But the band ends up sounding like a rip-off of the aforementioned artists combined with a rip-off of “Mother”-era Pink Floyd. And neither of the imitations is close enough to sound good.
Lightburn, in addition to writing pretentious epics that fall on their face, describes the album in the liner notes as “Written and Directed by Murry A. Lightburn.” Lightburn needs some direction himself– he can’t decide what type of singer he should be. His low, laid-back voice is as dull as a Thanksgiving parade, and when he tries to scream he sounds like a 16-year-old at a screamo concert desperately trying to sing along; yelling doesn’t suit him. Sometimes he sings a bit higher, louder and with more intensity, but this sounds like it’s out of a Broadway show tune. His falsetto wavers, but is probably the most pleasing. The female vocalist, Natalia Yanchak, is just as dull.
The pretentious quality surfaces when you realize that the swirling music in each attempted epic is supported only by cliché lyrics that take themselves way too seriously. Lines such as “I then arrived 10 minutes early with no smokes and I was broke, with no smoke” (cue saxophone interlude with “la la la”s) and “It’s me. It’s you. It’s me. It’s you. It’s me. It’s you” don’t hold up against the music. The repetition of the lyrics just makes matters worse. “It won’t ever be what we want,” 10 times in a row (very slowly), is not poignant enough to carry itself through repetition. Neither is “Never destroy us” 9 times in a row. And the music isn’t interesting enough to pick up the slack.
However, the instrumental sections are probably the best parts on the album, especially on “Warm and Sunny Days.” No one can say The Dears don’t know how to play their instruments. The problem is that it doesn’t necessarily make for good music. Almost every song attempts to build to a crescendo (or crescendos), but the end result of the build-up is never satisfying. It’s more like tartar build-up. Or that film on your car windshield that keeps getting worse every time you try to smear it with your hand, but you keep smearing it anyway. Tartar + car film = No Cities Left.