Close your eyes and think of the words "Canadian music." Suddenly, images of Bryan Adams singing that Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves song and Celine Dion running down the hall of a castle to the tune of "It's All Coming Back To Me Now" appear, right?

Unfortunately for the average music fan, the words "Canadian music" are forever linked with the year 1995. However, that was the same year that Montreal darlings the Dears formed. The Canadian rock scene has not been the same since.

"It's sad that people seem to associate Canadian music with the likes of Shania Twain and Celine Dion," says Murray Lightburn, chief songwriter and vocalist for the group. "There's a bit of a Renaissance going on. I mean, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver have all emerged as hubs of great music."

Lightburn is not joking. Over the last few years, Canada has become hard to ignore for its crucial role in keeping indie rock alive. Since around 2002, our friends to the north have given the world such great acts as Broken Social Scene, the Unicorns, the Stills, the Arcade Fire and more. Of these groups, the Dears stand among the elite.

Two albums deep into their career, the Quebecois sextet's sound is, as Lightburn suggests, "all over the map." Combining an orchestral spaciness, frequently raging guitars, and ponderous vocals, their most obvious comparisons are British bands of the past 20 years, including Blur, Spiritualized and the Smiths.

"A U.K. publicist just sent me a review from Q magazine," Lightburn relates, "that says we sound like 'Damon [Albarn, lead singer of Blur] fronting the Smiths.' Personally, I don't really understand it." Whatever comparisons Lightburn receives he takes with a grain of salt, however.

"It's kind of funny," he jokes, "because I'm black, so I think people are afraid that if they said I sounded like Sly [Stone] or Prince that I might be like 'you're just saying that because I'm black!'"

Perhaps. But the Dears' new album, No Cities Left, probably won't garner any comparisons to Sly or Prince, even discounting the hypothetical prejudices. With an average song length of just below six minutes (!), Lightburn's latest opus is atmospheric, brooding and constantly shape-shifting. "We tried to make the sound, quality-wise, a little better," Lightburn says of No Cities. "Production is just one of those things you have to work at."

While there remain many roads for the Dears to travel in their career, they have been fortunate enough in their short lifespan to be an integral facet of the burgeoning Canadian music scene. The neighbor we all know and love is changing, friends. With groups like the Dears, Canada seems to be in good hands. "In 20 years," Lightburn sarcastically notes, "I guess we want to be remembered as the group that got people back into peace and love." Now isn't that dear?

Check out the Dears new album No Cities Left coming out Oct. 12. See them live at the Five Spot (1 S. bank St.) on Oct. 16. $10. 9 p.m. And at the Khyber (56 S. 2nd St. ) on Oct. 27. $10. 9 p.m.


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