With their pop noir strings on mute, the Dears are left to rely on their fundamental structural elements - barbed-wire guitars, loads of synths and banging piano chords - to create the dramatic (sometimes oppressively so) dynamics that are the moody Montrealers' stock in trade. Hate Then Love frames Murray Lightburn's message of uneasy optimism in upbeat Gin Blossoms-meets-Blur pop, the plaintive melody and fuzzed-out synth-guitar assault of Bandwagoneers is the best of Bends-era Radiohead. Whites Only Party is a standout in terms of its country shuffle and hiccupping percussion and for its lyrical focus, which crystallizes the underdog theme into a subtle indictment of race relations. The restraint often works in their favour, though several tracks feel like they're bleeding off the edges of too-small canvases. The Dears' biggest coup with Gang Of Losers, though, is Lightburn's newfound ability to express his own sturm und drang through varied delivery rather than just a bloodcurdling caterwaul.
The Dears play the Virgin festival on Toronto Island September 9.