Communion / Caroline
After the release of two impressive extended plays, British nu-folk-folk outfit Bear’s Den recently dropped their official full-length debut. The album is called “Islands” because the songs themselves can be seen as different islands in a greater whole. On it, we can hear the band’s banjo-infused, folk-inspired indie sound, though it may, at times, be less folky than their track record would lead you to believe. Bear’s Den holds its hands on the reins and doesn’t go off in predictable climax-choruses or veer off into anything too experimental. After a number of years of honing their craft, the band found their niche and it shows on “Islands”.
The record starts off with the cinematographic Agape. Both lyrically and sonically the song provides you with an image. When you listen to the song and close your eyes, the scene will almost instantaneously appear in front of you. Combine this with Andrew Davie´s comforting vocals and you have one heck of an opening track.
On The Love We Stole Bear´s Den proves that repetition isn´t always a bad thing. The continuity in the arrangement that lies underneath subtly carries the song, just like the waves that surely but steadily carry sediment to the coast. Thanks to this, the song maintains a strong character, because at times the vocals can get a tiny bit muddy, which distracts from the lyrics. In conclusion, The Love We Stole is a good song, but there are even better songs on “Islands”.
Current single Above The Clouds of Pompeii is one of the highlights on the record. Bear’s Den is known for their literate, cinematographic way of songwriting and this song is indicative for that. Right from the start when Davie sings “We built our home on the slopes/Pompeii beneath/She lay above” to “So my father and my son/As you end what you’ve begun/You’ll lie patient by her side/roses red come lillies white”, the song just reads and listens like a movie scene. The gentle tone of the song guides you through the scenes and the chorus invites you to sing along (“Don’t cry/Hold your head up high/She would want you to”). I’m not sure if today’s market is ready for it yet, but this song would deserve to become a massive radio hit.
Isaac is another standout song on this very strong record. Its fragile vocals are perfectly accompanied by the fragile banjo and guitar. At times the song comes across as a plea and at the same time it is infused with encouragement and hope. In contrast to popular bands like Mumford & Sons, Bear’s Den doesn’t fall into the trap of repetitive songwriting. When you listen to a full Mumford & Sons album, you can almost predict how a song is going to progress. While their songs, individually hold up easily, listening to the same trick over and over can sometimes be a little much. Bear’s Den prevents this by showing restraint. Instead of going off into the seemingly inevitable banjo explosion, the band keeps things small and sincere, which gives the song enormous power.
This middle part of the album continues on a high note with Think of England. Sonically, you can detect a little change here, as percussion and drums step to the foreground a little more. What stays, is the band’s knack for ‘painting songs’. Once again this song progresses like scenes in a movie. The drum arrangements form a canvas on which the guitar arrangements and the vocal tone tastefully create a slight dissonance. This serves as a sonic enhancement for the song, much like a backdrop on which a painting is mounted. What I also really enjoyed was the introduction of horns to give the song more body.
Magdalene was one of two songs (the other was Above the Clouds of Pompeii) that immediately nestled itself in my head. Right from the start the melody grabbed a hold of me and I was humming along, bobbing my head to the melody. The combination between arrangement and vocal sound is tastefully done and while the song comes across as rather simple, it isn’t. And therein lies the strength of this song. The questions of life, love, hope and faith are relatable ones and in combination with the relatively catchy nature of this song, I could see this doing well on certain radio stations.
When listening to When You Break I couldn’t help but picture a baby turtle trying to get out of its shell. The song starts off with a ‘constricted’ (by lack of a better word) first minute but then it starts to open up and turns into a modern indie-folk song that constantly envelopes itself in a shroud of mystery. A couple of times it scales down a little just to break out of its shell again. And very slowly the intensity of the song increases as does the tempo until the very end where the song comes to a calm conclusion.
Stubborn Beast is a pretty solid song but it wasn’t quite as memorable as other songs on the record. The lyrics, once again, paint a picture, which I really like and which is indicative for Bear’s Den but for me the song doesn’t quite reach the same heights as the ones previously mentioned.
We then reach the oldest song of the bunch. Elysium was written around 3 years go but never sounded quite right. The song has very touching lyrics but the band couldn’t make it work initially. They revisited the song and with the addition of horns it grew out to something alltogether different. The lyrics have that wonderful, magical ability to instantly connect to the listener. You immediately feel this song as it literally speaks to you. It builds up subtly and the addition of the horns (thanks to fellow musician and friend Marcus Hamblett) gives the song a rich character and resonating impression that fills up the space between the emotive words/sounds and the willing listener. A perfect example that a song can shine if the pieces fall in the right places.
The album ends with Bad Blood. We get to hear some thrilling vocal harmonies, so do I really need to say more? Well, lets. The song goes on for 5 minutes but if it were twice as long, I’d still hardly notice it would take up that much time. There isn’t a distinct part of this song that makes it stand out but the way it navigates to/through the listener makes that this song is perfectly suited to close out “Islands”. It will leave you with the burning desire to quickly hit the repeat button.