THE DEARS 'No Cities Left' (Bella Union)

Led by the enigmatic Murray A Lightburn, Montreal's The Dears began life in 2001, releasing the debut album 'End Of A Hollywood Bedtime Story' which scored big with Canadian music critics. Band members came and went, before 2002's emotive mini album 'Protest', finally started registering on the A&R radar.

Step forward Bella Union (founded by former Cocteau Twins guitarist Robin Guthrie) who, in The Dears' 'No Cities Left', have one of 2004's best albums on their hands. 'No Cities Left' draws on classic English guitar pop influences, with a notable nod to The Smiths & Blur: 'Don't Lose The Faith' wouldn't sound out of place on 'Modern Life Is Rubbish', while during 'Lost In The Plot', one can imagine Damon Albarn handing the mic to Morrissey, bowing gracefully in gratitude as he does so.

At times 'No Cities Left' nearly trips up on itself trying to cram in as many English influences as it can. The near eight minute wonder that is 'Expect The Worst / Cos She's A Tourist' manages to cram in The Beatles 'Eleanor Rigby', 'Parklife' era Blur and then just when one wonders it couldn't get anymore Britpop, it switches to Pink Floyd with a horn section jazz wig out for good measure.

That it doesn't is thanks to the first rate production, not from a Rubin or a Leckie but from the singer/songwriter/composer himself Lightburn. Quite how he and The Dears manage it is anyone's guess. Quite how they manage to sustain their ebullient form, and retain the element of surprise into the second half of the album is astounding. '22: Death Of All The Romance' begins with a breathy female vocal which sounds like it's been beamed in from another decade, never mind another band, while another eight minute epic 'Postcard From Purgatory' begins with an edgy, dubby, vibe, building and breaking down the tension, before rebuilding itself once more into an explosion of wailing guitar, thunderous drums, and a flute. A flute for fucks sake! Never before has a flute sounded quite so dangerous on record.

Yet, 'No Cities Left' is not an immediate record and is all the better for it. This remarkable record needs to be listened to, really listened to, and as a result is a richly, rewarding experience. Buy it before everyone else claims they discovered The Dears first.

Anthony Gibbons