On No Cities Left
, its terrific 2004 album, this Montreal outfit makes delicious art-pop, replete with chattering guitars, swirling strings, warm horns, and the sort of eerie keyboards Thom Yorke probably uses as background music when he wants to unsettle burdensome houseguests. The band is led by singer-guitarist Murray Lightburn, an unqualified drama queen -- after asking to be pulled "to the depths of the sea" in Cities
' "Lost in the Plot," he promises not to cry anymore, completely unbelievably. But Lightburn's skill as a bandleader is the way he frames his melodrama in music that retains a veneer of control. Someone truly beyond the pale couldn't come up with a set piece like "Expect the Worst/'Cos She's a Tourist," which begins as minor-key chamber rock, then cranks up into galloping goth-pop before melting into a pool of trippy Pink Floyd ooze. Onstage, the Dears are less precise, as the group sacrifices some of its composure to the twin live-band virtues of speed and volume. But if they're less brainy, they're more visceral: Watch Lightburn and keyboardist Natalia Yanchak trade barbs in "The Death of All the Romance" for a lesson in true soap opera.