Dance Movie self-describes its ethos as “heart first,” but lest you think that means there’s something gooey, soft and overly sentimental about the Halifax-based band’s new record, Pierce, it’s important to remember just how hard a heart works.
“I never meant to make your heart my favourite thing,” lead singer-guitarist, Tara Thorne, spits on the album opener, “Nosebleed.” It’s a fireworks display of honesty, anger, disappointment, hope and wonder and it sets the stage — emotionally, musically and lyrically — for everything that follows.
Pierce is a concept album, and though the premise is simple, it’s actually a very complicated and nuanced act of defiance to pull it off this seamlessly. Every song on the record contains the word “heart” and it’s never gimmicky or cutesy, it’s just well executed and cohesive. In part, this could be because the core band members — Thorne, guitarist Rebecca Zolkower and bassist Trevor Murphy — have known each other for so long, even if this is their first official Dance Movie record together (it's also Dance Movie's first full album of new material in five years). The trust they place in each other is evident in the tricky negotiation of arrangements, lyrics and production — the song, record and concept — without softening the rougher edges of Dance Movie’s wit, honesty, anger and heart.
But, remember the raw function of a heart, crucial to the bodies we push and punish, critical to our very existence. Now recall the bombast and humility of a heart’s symbolism: strong, resilient, vulnerable. Know that it’s a brave thing to bare it and heed the care it requires; its capacity for fullness; the ways it protects us and fails us and cracks open. Pierce accomplishes all of that throughout its 11 tracks, with a bloodline built on blistering, bad-ass, dance-pop kiss-offs (“Penny,” “Requite,” “An Inelegant Fade”), crescendoing rockers (“Friday Night Mights”) and folky, foot-stomping campfire anthems (“Thaw”).
The stunning “Give Up the Grace” recalls Once’s exquisite, Oscar-winning anthem, “Falling Slowly” sonically, but is its opposite thematically. This is the solitary version on the other side, when you’re looking back at love. “Oh my dear, which lie will you crawl from tonight?” Thorne sings. The purposeful contrast of her voice blanketed by restrained, gentle drums is followed by a brief moment of violin before a wave of sound crashes into the foreground, Thorne’s vocals rising up to meet the crush of guitars and drums and strings. It’s both harsh and gentle, a timelapse of a bruise transitioning from vivid to vanished, a colour palette of an old cliché.
The album ends on the epic and hilariously titled “Too Legit to Commit.” It’s too simplistic to reduce Pierce to a break-up record, but at the very least, the album is bookended by different stages of heartbreak, an exploration of the verb tenses of leave, leaving, left. “How can you want this all again?” Thorne asks, a question that rips through everybody who’s experienced the merciless confusion of a complicated love. The swell of violin, piano, synths and electric guitar propel Pierce’s crush-worthy final refrain: “Take some of this hurt I’m holding/ I’m still hanging by my throat here/ maybe someday I can move a little/ by then you’ll be gone.”
Pre-order Pierce here.
Hang out with me on Twitter: @_AndreaWarner