Bear Hands knows how to party
Allie Tollaksen | Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Bear Hands may be best known for “Giants,” which peaked at No. 31 on the Billboard Alternative Songs just last year, but the band has been around for much longer. Formed in 2006 at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, the group has been recording and touring since, and they garnered comparisons from fellow Wesleyan alum MGMT right from the start.
But while MGMT has moved away from its sing-able, indie-pop-rock style that made them such a hit toward a more low-key, experimental (and arguably less likable) one, Bear Hands has grown farther into their sound. After several EP releases and the critical praise of their first full-length LP, “Burning Bush Supper Club,” in 2010, the group is set to release their second full-length album, “Distraction,” this month.
Along with the upcoming album’s first single, the undeniably catchy “Giants,” the band has released a second single, “Agora,” accompanied with a new music video. Providing a contrast to the first single, which is a love song, “Agora” is a bit darker, documenting the thoughts of an agoraphobe. But despite the more serious content, Bear Hands doesn’t compromise their characteristic syncopated drum banging, affected guitar or high-energy, wailing vocals.
On stage, Rau tends to his synthesizer as his band members join him during the chorus of “Agora,” while bassist Val Looper takes a break from his primary instrument to manage a drum, maraca and tambourine. Though the band may just be gaining momentum outside of Brooklyn, it’s clear that the band has plenty of experience on stage. Pulling from upcoming songs on the upcoming “Distraction,” as well as plenty of tracks from “Burning Bush Supper Club,” the set was a solid mix of old and new. Despite most of the crowd only recognizing a song or two, the band executed each song masterfully and had no problem getting the audience moving.
While the Rau’s nasally vocals and Bear Hands’ general psych-pop sound may be a bit familiar, the band stands out with a consistent, danceable and cool sound which, surprisingly, makes them a more interesting act for the Legends stage than similar bands that have come to campus recently, like Grouplove or The Joy Formidable.
And though their lyrics may not be terribly complex or even particularly deep, Rau’s sharp vocals are prominent, and the repetitious choruses over the group’s heavy beat and psychedelic guitar are easy to sing along with. Chalk full of pop culture references, including a song about Harmony Korine’s “Julien Donkey Boylike” and, of course, the previously mentioned Wu-Tang member, Bear Hands’ songs never bore.
The group’s stage presence did leave a little to be desired, as it was clear that Notre Dame wasn’t the Brooklynites’ usual crowd, and the band wasn’t too keen on engaging their audience between songs — or even after the show (full disclosure: Dylan Rau told me Notre Dame didn’t know how to party), but musically, Bear Hands was a rare gem amidst the acts that come to Legends.
Despite the four-year gap between the band’s two LPs, the group has remained active, releasing singles and EPs and touring consistently with acts ranging from Killer Mike to We Were Promised Jetpacks. After touring and promoting “Distraction” this winter, the group will head to Coachella in April and are sure to continue in the festival circuit throughout the summer. As long as you “know how to party,” the group shouldn’t be missed.