ALBUM: Red Earth and Pouring Rain
ARTIST: Bear’s Den
Album release date: July 22, 2016
Bear’s Den has set out to “make the album [their] audience didn’t know they wanted”. Red Earth & Pouring Rain is their second full-length album, and it is an earnest offering of dramatic nu-folk pop-rock that will surely console many a forlorn dumpee on the midnight interstate.
According to frontman Kevin Jones, they wanted to make a great album for driving at night. They’re quick to mention wherever possible that that doesn’t imply a lack of technicality and attention to detail – they used an old oil-tank as a bassdrum, don’t you know – but thematically, a good metaphor for the mood is the idea of driving forwards while looking in the rear view mirror. “A sense of contrary motion,” Jones says, which I have to admit sounds out-of-place coming from anyone other than, say, Frank Zappa. But maybe that’s neither here nor there.
The musical styling on this album goes in a direction other than the banjo-heavy, harmony-dense path of their previous releases – perhaps in an effort to shrug off the constant comparison to Mumford and Sons, and perhaps in an effort to re-establish themselves as a band in the wake of multi-instrumentalist Joey’s amicable departure earlier this year. The new sound is a foray into the now-tired territory of 80’s synth rock/pop, something which has become in vogue this past year (for reasons inscrutable). Most of the songs stay close to the band’s alternative folk roots, however: the meaningfulness of these songs is not obscured by their production.
Sibling relationships, dementia and loss of place, relying on friendships in order to remember one’s identity and worth beneath self-loathing and woundedness, and a prevalent sense of regret imbue the thematic telos of this album. The lyrics are image-dense but ambiguous: these songs could have been lifted from the journal of a melancholic idealist, which sounds paradoxical, but we all know that paradox is the artist’s bread and butter (and simultaneously the bane of his existence. Paradox, yet again). You can’t be quite sure whether the anxious phrases are the result of some new glimmer or hope or of inveterate ennui. It’s likely, though, that someone who’s feeling like a failure will find greater solace in this album than someone who’s on top of the world – which means that everyone will find something to dig in this music, at least, at some point in their lives.
Red Earth and Pouring Rain feels laborious and indulgent at turns: but it avoids being a bust thanks to its musical cogency. Even a person who has no prior knowledge of the band can enjoy putting this most recent effort on at the start of a long drive – the music is pleasant, easy to listen to, and won’t intrude on any introspective odysseys: because, for all its glossiness, it doesn’t have a great deal of contour.
Mayhap if I was familiar with their other work, I would have a different take on this album, and I would be better able to perceive its brilliance within that framework. I ask folks to take what I write somewhat seriously – I’m no absurdist, no Hemingway – but I also ask that they take it with a nice big grain of salt. So, give Bear’s Den a try. Their music may be the wrecking ball your life needs.