Breaking It Down With Bear Hands
Allie Tollaksen | Tuesday, February 25, 2014
If you missed Bear Hands at Legends this month, you missed out on a chance to hear new tracks from the up-and-coming alt-rock group before their album release. But fear not — even if you didn’t catch Bear Hands’ new music in person, their newest LP, “Distraction,” is finally out this week. Along with two singles released last year, the group’s biggest hit to date, “Giants,” and new single “Agora,” the new album, “Distraction,” features 11 tracks from the Brooklyn-based band.
“Distraction” opens on a slightly disappointing note with “Moment of Silence,” a quiet, minimalistic song with little melody or, unfortunately, allure. The song does build up by its last third, but fails to accomplish the cathartic release it aims to reach and instead sets the album on the wrong track.
The next two songs do manage to pick up the energy, however, with “Giants” followed by “Agora.” Strangely, despite “Giants” being the band’s most successful single thus far, it feels out of place on the new album. It’s catchy and high-energy, but is reminiscent of the group’s 2010 LP “Burning Bush Supper Club” both melodically and lyrically. It feels slightly juvenile compared to the rest of the album’s darker, more introspective themes.
“Agora,” is clearly the stand out track however, setting the bar for the rest of the album. On par with this are a few of the tracks in the middle of “Distraction,” including “Bad Friend” and “The Bug.” It’s on these tracks that Rau’s repetitive and deprecating lyrics work, and the group manages to incorporate interesting chord progressions and instrumentals to hold the listener’s attention.
“Bad Friend” starts with ringing guitar, rather than their usual heavy drum and vocal intros, but manages to work as the chorus begins and incorporates Bear Hands’ distinctive sound into the guitar-driven track. “The Bug” also initially doesn’t sound terribly compelling until a funk-inspired bass emerges, turning it into a standout track.
But while “Agora” gave “Distraction” promise and the previously mentioned tracks managed to deliver, the album has its share of confusing missteps. While “The Bug” and “Bad Friend” pick up by their chorus, “Bone Digger,” which sounds like Youth Lagoon with Rau’s low, distorted vocals, does just the opposite, falling flat after a promising intro.
Similarly, “Peacekeeper” and “Vile Iowa” don’t seem to fit into the album. Though they are drastically different songs, they both stand out on the album almost to a fault. The former is the band’s obvious turn into a more rock-driven direction, with heavy guitar and quick drums throughout that make you want to bite your bottom lip and nod your head. The latter is an experiment in slowing things down, with Rau whisper-singing the ballad that isn’t dynamic enough in its lyrics or melody to pull off such a mellow sound.
The album closes out fairly strongly, however, and the more mellow sound not accomplished in “Vile Iowa,” is in “Party Hats,” a toe-tapper that sounds Beck-inspired in the best way, and “Thought Wrong,” which shows Bear Hands’ ability to use experimental electronic instrumentals and integrate them with acoustic guitar for a sad, but nice ending to the album.
What Bear Hands definitely has down is Dylan Rau’s clear-as-day vocals over a catchy, uppity beat, and it’s clear from “Distraction” that the group can still do that well, while also offering more. However, what I was hoping to find on “Distraction” was an exploration in melody and lyricism that simply didn’t happen. Instead, the album is a confusing collection of tracks that sometimes get it right and other times miss the mark completely as the band experiments with instrumentals, tempos and themes. Perhaps it will just take time and another album for Bear Hands to get it right.