There are a variety of Bears with guitars out there. One has a former guitar player from King Crimson as a member. Another put out an album called Burrito Palace. But this group of Bears is from Cleveland and they peddle something they describe on their Facebook page as “indiepop! Or something else maybe.” They have a sound that is at times DIY and LoFi or even Elephant 6 when they really get excited. Their self-titled debut album Bears arrived in 2006 and the band’s two tonal moods are captured nicely with the moody “How to Live” (check out that crazy haunted movie music organ!) and the more upbeat, boppy “When You’re Away.”
2007 saw the release of two EPs, Shortest Day of the Year and Summer Tour. Here’s a song from each: “You Can Tell” features the band’s signature strummy sound while “Wait and See” has a very Apples in Stereo vibe. The latter song appears again on the band’s 2008 LP Simple Machinery with a lighter, more keyboard heavy arrangement. From the same record, “Your Help” opens with an Amélie-like accordion sound and a vocal that exudes Morrissey on a good day. “Who Knows” came out the same year as a stand alone single and represented a sonic departure for the band with its early Elvis Costello organ burst at the start and various intervals of the song.
Productivity slowed up after 2008. Aside from a holiday EP, fans had to wait for 2012’s Greater Lakes but it was worth it for the soaring and peppy “Wash My Hands” alone. In fact, the whole record had a stronger punch to the songs and arrangements. 2014’s double A-sided single “Friends/Choosing Your Words” is the last release from Bears, though more recent recordings from spin off projects are now emerging (see the Kalaika project here). “Choosing Your Words” has a lovely loping rhythm which seems to coda this band’s efforts in style.
One gets a sense from the self-effacing tone of the band’s self-penned history on their website that they had no illusions about becoming some kind of superstar success story. But I just discovered them via that great iTunes ‘listeners also bought’ feature so if we times that by 10,000 other random discoveries who knows? Check out the full complement of recordings and contact info for Bears on their Bandcamp, Facebook and band website.
If I liked them once, chances are I’ll probably like them again. So new releases by previously featured artists are always exciting. At least, until I get through the preview stage – then some are, on occasion, disappointing. But not this crew. It’s all pretty solid stuff from artists that I particularly dug the first time I encountered them.
Ezra Furman blew into my 2015 with a tantalizing catalogue of material: neo-1960s girl group meets Bob Dylan transitioning out of folk music, with just a dash of new wave and punk and cross-dressing. He lit up the now-closed Silver Dollar in Toronto with an eclectic and electric show that autumn with a both in-your-face punk and deeply vulnerable performance. This guy is a must-see performer if he comes near your town. Furman has a new album – Transangelic Exodus – set to drop in February of next year, with a few teaser singles available now. But I prefer here to draw from his year old EP Big Fugitive Life, which nicely showcases the incredible range of his talent. Just check out “Little Piece of Trash” with its neo-1950s vibe, particularly that honking sax. But just when you think Furman is doing nostalgia he breaks out an amazing frenetic chorus featuring great punky-new wave hooks. “Teddy I’m Ready” is another strong track from this EP with its brilliantly understated and tender vocal.
Little Piece of Trash
Canadian David Myles is surely a reincarnation of Buddy Holly. He looks the part and his new album Real Love sounds like it takes up where Buddy would have left off in 1959. Myles has an amazing ear for the period – there’s a bit of Elvis, a lot of Marty Robbins, a hat tip to Roger Miller, and Buddy obviously. And yet this is not just a space age revival record. Unmistakable contemporary twists can be heard all throughout the album. Title track “Real Love” stretches its melody out of its neo-1950s groove here and there. The horns on tracks like “Look at Me” don’t quite obey the period norms. But as with all Myles releases, it is the songwriting that pulls everything together. The subtle and understated performance of “If You Want Tonight” underplays its classic song structure. I can hear Elvis or Marty doing this one. “Cry, Cry, Cry” is so Buddy. “Everybody Knows” opens large with a scat vocal reminiscent of so many Roger Miller records but quickly segues into a catchy period number. “Easy” also sounds very early 1960s with its slightly discordant vocals. Myles is big time love-song-singer and fittingly the album ends with the beautiful “Crazy to Leave.” Slip this baby on and teleport to those make-believe simpler times.
If You Want TonightEverybody Knows
We went a bit wild for Berwanger’s back catalogue when we discovered it here at Poprock Record. The gleeful mixture of classic and indie rock, shamelessly tuneful, vibing a range potentially stretching from the Vaccines to the Tom Petty. The new record And the Star Invaders continues the band’s sonic mission to explore and inhabit new musical territory. Opening track “The Star Invaders” begins with Berwanger’s familiar catchy rhythm guitar but then suddenly shifts into a ‘she’s gone’ mini-chorus that sounds straight out the New Pornographers songbook. The hooks in this song are so addictive they should require a prescription. So too “Horror Show” starts off low key only to break out into a swinging poprock delight at the 37 second mark and never lets up. “Broken Moon” breaks out the acoustic guitars to ghost up a really nice but more meandering melody. All ain all, another strong outing.
I couldn’t get enough of Good Old War when I stumbled across their perfectly modulated poprock single “Broken Record.” The production, the tightly arranged acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies, the nice School House Rock nod with the double stop ahhs. Really, this was mini masterpiece. How could I know it was an outlier on a record that was itself a departure from their usual sound? In the end it didn’t matter. I fell in love with all the great songs on Broken into Better Shape with its slicker, more produced sound than their previous more folky vibe. Almost as a nod to older fans, the band followed up the record by releasing a series of more acoustic versions of some of the songs from the album. Now their new Part of Me EP scales back the production for a return to their earlier simpler sound. “The River” opens things up with a nice swinging melody, title track “Part of Me” is a finger picking slower mediation on love and belonging, while “Oak Tree” sounds like a traditional country folk ballad you might hear in church, if people in your church could sing. A very nice something to tide us over until a new album arrives.The RiverNever Gonna See Me Cry (Acoustic)