are not afraid to be a new band. So many young artists arrive in our inbox with the scripted hype and manufactured fanfare of bands with decades of experience. I can't even fathom the number of "can't miss" invitations to exclusive gigs or desperate pleas for placement from bands making "brilliant", "visionary", and "amazing" new music. Such appeals to pounce on any and every new act is constant...our collective delete trigger and apologetic "thanks but no thanks" has pretty much become a reflex at this point. Every now and then, however, something new stops us in our tracks, giving us an unexplained moment of pause, and reminds us that wading through the murky waters of hype and noise reveals real, honest-to-god, musical gold dust for the mining.
Last summer the stainless, pastoral folk we encountered on an EP called Agape
by the English trio provided one of these rare moments of immediacy. Three voices with outrageous harmonious power, stories soaked in vats of raw emotion, and rustic, acoustic backdrops that drive the sincerity of their music home like a stake to the listener's heart. We were happy to spill our blood for Bear's Den then and, with their second EP of songs titled Without/Within
being released today, we're sure as hell ready to do it again.
The new collection arrives with familiar elements of fresh-faced folk tracing through its veins, most notably represented by the solemn banjo plucker, "Sophie", a tune one could imagine happily tucked away on some Sufjan Stevens demo tape somewhere. But it's the mist of ambiance that greets the listener on "Sahara Pt. 1" that's most jarring, crystallizing into the band's signature, three-part harmony, glistening electric guitar work, and a rhythmic pounce that escorts the band off into uncharted sonic territory in "Sahara Pt 2".
Singer Andrew Davie describes this batch of songs as the band's "most ambitious, sonically"; the result of experimentation with electric guitar, various effects, and bass-serving synths. On "Don't Let The Sun Steal You Away", such new infatuations flirt with the aforementioned acoustics. Like some rusty windmill, melodic snaps of banjo turn on the song's growing, electric intensity. Take cover as it cycles through. There's a storm brewing within such wide open space. "Writing On The Wall" is the most upbeat this trio has ever sounded, skipping to a lick—yes, an actual electric guitar lick —eventually erupting with fiery spouts of heavy handed, tom work.
So it seems that on Without/Within
, Bear's Den may not be the folk band we've previosly made them out to be. Tinkering with a round or two of EPs before setting off to record what will be a very highly anticipated debut is a perfect way to find oneself, musically speaking. That the trio has made such an enduring, creative statement in the process is what's most exciting about this new band. If this is Bear's Den experimenting, what then will they sound like when they really
get the hang of things?