Not on the Frontier
Back at SXSW 2010 when Bear Hands was hot on the heels of Burning Bush Supper Club, drummer TJ Orscher said, “We fight like brothers and love like mothers. The rest is magic.” That’s to say, it didn’t take long for Bear Hands to find their footing and dynamics. Once they were done promoting their debut, this Brooklyn treasure retreated back into their New York homes and slipped into Distraction. Literally. But hey, maybe a little distraction is okay, because a pretty good record came out of it.
Bear Hands is a band that was originally propelled by a Wesleyan connection with MGMT, but they earned their place in the national headspace with infectious songwriting. Distraction is their second proper LP, produced by Bear Hands’ own Ted Feldman and mixed by James Brown (no, not that one), who has previously worked with Foo Fighters and NIN. The album, out on Cantora Records, is marked by constant hooks and a strong pop sensibility.
It all starts with a “Moment of Silence,” a somber track tinged with electronic sounds, snare hits and a dominant vocal performance. Next up is the bombastic “Giants,” one of the most energetic songs on the record, which explains why it’s already making rounds on college radio. Then there’s “Agora,” a catchy tune polarized by anthemic choruses and groovy falsetto-based verses. As good as it is, one can’t escape the thought that Chumbawamba’s “Tumbtumping” is unfortunately similar.
The first major change of pace comes with “Vile Iowa,” a slow burner that contains what might be Dylan Rau’s strongest vocal performance on the album. Another song that stands apart from tunes that tend to blend together is “Peacekeeper,” which is almost a throwback to Blink-182 and other late ‘90s early ‘00s pop punk. Other worthy tracks include “Bone Digger,” with a vocal melody reminiscent of a KiD CuDi song, and “The Bug,” with a head-bobbing verse that isn’t so unlike Passion Pit, Empire of the Sun or Phoenix. “Party Hats” is deliberately paced and spacious song that properly winds down the album. And Bear Hands leave us longing with the lovelorn beauty that is “Thought Wrong.”
All of this being said, Bear Hands’ material might hold too strong of a resemblance to music that’s been dominating indie radio waves for the past decade. This is good and fine—it means that Distraction will probably strike a chord with today’s youth—but there probably isn’t much longevity for a record like this. It appears that Bear Hands are not pioneer men, but kudos to a strong pop record with some interesting twists and turns.