It may have taken four albums, but Dearly Beloved’s Rob Higgins has learned to share. While still the mastermind behind the band and their latest release, Hawk vs Pigeon, Higgins has relinquished his position as the vocal and bass centerpiece in favour of exploring a wider variety of sounds. Continuing in the same vein as their last single, ‘Make It Bleed’, this album hands a large portion of the lead to vocalist Niva Chow. She sings, howls and pseudo-raps; shadowing and complementing Higgins, grappling for power and winning on songs like ‘Day Trader’ and ‘Living Proof’.
On the whole, there’s a sense of relaxation and space to this record. While predecessors You Are the Jaguar, Repo Repo Repo and They Will Take Up Serpents (Make it Bleed in the US) have unabashed in-your-face qualities, Hawk vs Pigeon takes a deep breath and a step back. The intensity remains, but finds itself in the spaces between, the subtler details. Not to say that this album is soft, far from it. It just disarms you with a pretty smile while slowly tightening its hands around your throat. Perhaps to assure longtime fans that the old Dearly Beloved sound has not been abandoned, Higgins screams his little bearded face off all the way through ‘To Better Days’. And he can’t resist showing off his signature swaggering bass lines in ‘She’ and ‘Lizard Fight’ either. After all, they’ve always been the band’s defining factor.
A lot of the change in artist demeanor can be contributed to Joshua Tree, California. There, at Rancho de la Luna, the studio of Eagles of Death Metal’s Dave Catching, Hawk vs Pigeon was born. The desert seeps its way into almost every track; the sandstormy ‘Doves Above a Door’, the slow, lazy intensity of ‘World Series of Fedoras’ and ‘Trash’. Most notably, the guitar in ‘Miles Around’; glimmering like merciful droplets of water landing on parched earth. Perhaps the peace of the desert inspired the introspective lyrics as well; they read like a diary or therapy session, dealing with both external and internal conflict. ‘Aimed Right At Me’ plays the victim, lamenting “I can’t believe what I’ve seen” while ‘Living Proof’ sounds off, a pointed “fuck you, we made it”. ‘She’ struggles with temptation, reasoning “If you give it away, she’s just gonna break your heart”. ‘To Better Days’ is exactly what it sounds like- an ode to hope and emotional liberation.
Dave Catching isn’t the only “big” name tied to this album. Care Failure of Die Mannequin provide vocals on ‘To Better Days’ while Patrick Pentland of Sloan shreds on guitar. Broken Social Scene’s Brendan Canning provides guitar in ‘Miles Around’ while ‘World Series of Fedoras’ shows off the distorgan work of The Trews’ Jeff Heisholt. Rather than being a label’s idea to move units, these are just collaborations among friends; subtle artistic flairs that don’t make or break any song.
Hawk vs Pigeon is further proof that Dearly Beloved is incapable and unwilling to colour inside the lines. Every song takes on a different personality, relishing in eccentricity. The somewhat psychadelic instrumental ‘Doves Above the Door’ draws the album to a close. Starting slow and gentle before turning fervent and churning, it summarizes the desert experience, the writing and recording process; the band’s rebirth.
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