In the three years since Bear’s Den started releasing music, the British folk/rock duo has found its way into the headphones of hipsters worldwide. Now the band is back for more with their much-anticipated record “Red Earth & Pouring Rain”—and they did not disappoint.
Whether intentional or not, the masterful album is a tribute to classic English rock which stays true to Bear’s Den’s identity while delving even deeper into the things that make them great. The first moments of the album sound as if they were taken straight from a mid-80’s rock album. The opening, with its heavy synths and driving rhythms, is reminiscent of classic English rock and pop bands like A-ha and Asia. The throwback sound is sprinkled throughout the entire album, blending well with classic Bear’s Den elements.
The album certainly carries more energy than its predecessor “Islands,” but it does not stray so far from home base that it is unrecognizable. Despite the prevalence of electro-synth sounds, Bear’s Den’s characteristic melody lines and tight vocal harmonies remain—and are as captivating as ever. If you listen closely, you can also hear the finger-picking guitar and banjo accompaniment that defined their earlier work.
Lyrically speaking, the album deals with many complex themes: self-identity, love, protection, commitment, doubting, recovery, and the simplicity of beauty. It has all the compelling aspects of Bear’s Den’s prior work, with even more depth and exploration.
Two songs immediately jumped out at me when I listened to their live stream a few days prior to the release: “Fortress” and “Gabriel.”
“Fortress” is full of desire and agony. A man realizes he has done the very thing he is most afraid of: he has hurt the one he loves. The second half of the song answers all the questions raised by the first half, but instead of offering hope it responds in dismay. This sad tale is carried by haunting instrumentation, driven by the beat of a oil-tank-turned-bass-drum (which appears several times throughout the album). The aural landscape is desolate, but beautiful.
The other song that I can’t finish without talking about is “Gabriel.” In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, lead singer Andrew Davie explained, “Gabriel is a name for those people who know me better than I know myself and helped me figure some stuff out that I wouldn’t have been able to figure out on my own.” The lyrics of “Gabriel” wrestle with finding meaning and purpose for one’s own life while seeking for someone who can help you make sense of yourself and keep you focused. The song is extremely personal and very relatable, especially when it talks of how often are we our own worst enemies—“the person I am, yet most despise.”
Oftentimes, when bands experiment with new styles, the result is new rubbish that sounds nothing like the band in question. In contrast, Bear’s Den has succeeded in creating a record that is both fresh and vintage. “Red Earth & Pouring Rain” reaches into new musical realms and explores new lyrical depths while maintaining the essence of a Bear’s Den recording. Longtime fans will only grow in appreciation for the band’s creativity, and unfamiliar listeners will find plenty to enjoy.
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Featured image: Album artwork for “Red Earth & Pouring Rain” by Bear’s Den.