The Dear Hunter (not to be confused with post-punk/ shoegaze hybrid act Deerhunter, noise pop group Deerhoof, or post-rock band the Dears) are a diverse group of genre-benders that fit quite nicely in line with the recent “throw a bunch of different genres together and see what comes out” school of indie rock pioneered by Broken Social Scene and brought to prominence by Arcade Fire’s Funeral. If you’re familiar with those groups and others in the same style – the National, the Decemberists, Wolf Parade – you should have a decent idea of what to expect here. Plenty of layered string arrangements, rhythms that sit somewhere re between post-punk and disco, earnest vocals, and a gigantic, widescreen sound.
What sets the Dear Hunter apart is that they love deviating from this format. Yes, there’s a lot here that fits it perfectly – the surging “An Escape” and “Kiss of Life” and almost danceable “Whisper,” all terrifically fun, come to mind – but they also draw on a few rather surprising influences. The biggest departure by far has got to be “Shouting at the Rain,” a ‘70s-style country ballad that reminds me of Okkervil River or maybe the Red House Painters circa Old Ramon, but there are plenty of others, too. One of them, “Girl,” is a clumsy attempt to weld funk, garage blues, and R&B together; needless to say, this is my least favorite on the album. But on the other hand, “This Vicious Place” is a surprisingly effective e shot at trip hop. Granted, it probably won’t lead you to set Massive Attack aside and declare the Dear Hunter the new heroes of the genre, but it’s certainly a lot better than expected.
Elsewhere, this album has two modes. There’s the post-punk/chamber pop/generally sort of Arcade Fire-flavored mode, and the dreamy mode hat takes over to the end. “Sweet Naiveté,” probably the best song on the album, brings that in spades with its phenomenal piano and spacy vocals; fans of that should also enjoy “Cycles,” “Let Go,” and “Don’t Look Back.” Meanwhile, “Bring You Down” and “Shame” are intriguing efforts to mix these styles; they’re not particular favorites of mine (“Shame’s” retro electric piano doesn’t quite get off the ground, although the strings are cool; I do like how “Bring You Down” is dreamy funk, though, because how much dreamy funk exists?), but they’re certainly different, which hooks the listener in effectively.
So it’s a pretty solid album on a whole. Most of it is very good, and on occasion – “An Escape,” “Sweet Naiveté” – this album courts greatness. If you’ve eaten up the more famous eclectic indie rock albums of the past ten or fifteen years, this’ll make for a great next step.