Bear Hands

You’ll Pay for This – Bear Hands

Release Year: 2016

Rating: 8.5/10

I first heard of Bear Hands when I saw them open for Cage the Elephant in 2014. I really dug their revolving musical styles and upbeat songs, so I quickly became a fan. I was pumped to hear about their upcoming album, looking for more infectious synth and unique tunes. And I was not disappointed.

The band has a knack for mixing synth with indie rock and it’s no different on this album. It opens with the 80s tinged “I Won’t Pay,” which starts out soft and mellow with falsetto vocals by Dylan Rau until it amps up for a bigger sound. When the guitar takes over during the bridge, it gives the song a rock edge. It’s catchy, which is a running theme for most of the album. Next comes their current single “2AM.” Though it describes partying until the early morning, the music is surprisingly chill. The mood is very soft and kind of atmospheric as it explores trying to stay out even though you’re too old. Lyrics like “All I want is/to forget how old I am” and “I put my best dress on/crawl back in bed” brings up images of being stuck at a party feeling miserable. It’s not the most grabbing song on the record, but it grows on you after repeated listens.

The band continues exploring getting older on “Too Young,” which sounds like a lounge song from the 70s at times. It’s not the strongest song on the album, but it’s not horrible. It manages to be interesting with it’s subject of being too immature for a relationship. The song does boast the memorable line “Youth is overrated,” which goes against the grain of common thought. Things are tuned down for the dreamy “The Shallows.” It begins with soothing sounds of rain and continues the calming theme with falsetto vocals and light surf rock guitars. It’s not necessarily a high point on the album, but the relaxing nature of it allows listeners to catch their breath.

Similar to their previous release, most of the songs on the album are fun, memorable, and made to get you dancing. “Like me Like That” has a simple hook and is another song taken straight from the 80s and “Chin Ups” is a synth pop, energetic ride with a hint of rock. Bear Hands let’s their old school influences run wild on the catchy “I See You.” With even more raucous synth and spacey sound effects, it sounds like it was taken straight from their favorite era. It sticks with their established style, but it’s another upbeat hit for the band.

The mellow, tropical opening of “Boss” seems unfitting at first, but once the hook kicks in the song comes alive. The guitar has a Southern rock flavor giving the song a boost. The track gets stuck in your head from the memorable hook of “I’m the bitch and you’re the boss.” The 80s feel returns on the bouncy and infectious “Deja Vu.” As soon as the bright synth riff kicks in, it makes you feel good. This is mixed with Rau’s rapid rap-like flow to make an irresistible track. The mood gets even better when brassy horns come in towards the end and amps up the feel good mood.

The most forgettable track is the closer “Purpose Filled Life.” Even though it’s dreamy, atmospheric, and has heart behind it, it’s buried under the stronger songs. The music is innocent, sounding like something from a simple Casio keyboard. The song itself seems to deal with making sure your life has meaning to it, which is a universal feeling. It’s kind of a depressing way to end a thrilling album.

What makes Bear Hands’ music so appealing is how exciting, different, and fun it is. Fans will be happy to know there’s more of the same on this album. It doesn’t really stray away from their beloved electric, synthpop, rock vibe, but it cranks up everything they did on their last effort and makes it better. The theme of the album is at least different and will be relatable to fans in their late 20s and older. It seems the longer Bear Hands around, their output gets stronger.

Advertisements

Distraction – Bear Hands

Distraction-bear-handsRelease Year: 2014

Rating: 8/10

Bear Hands are a fairly unknown band who formed in 2006 and released their debut in 2010. While that album did well enough in the indie circuit, it wasn’t until this 2014 LP that they got more exposure. Mashing up different musical sounds from hip-hop to new wave the best way to describe them is experimental rock and this is what makes them so interesting. While they have plenty of catchy songs to keep you dancing, they also have unique tracks with various sounds to keep the listener on their toes.

Things kick off with the slow, atmospheric vibe of “Moment of Silence.” This song has a spiritual mood to it as the light, airy music dances around and vocalist Dylan Rau sings “Oh, let the birds of a feather sing of the pain that the pleasure brings/of the change in the western wind and the changed direction.” Just when you think you have the track figured out, it shifts gears introducing electronic elements making for bright, peppy music. The entire thing is very uplifting and puts you in a good mood. The same can be said for “Giants,” arguably the best song on the album. With it’s big, boombastic sound and simple, catchy chorus of “I am loving you more” it has a great party vibe. Rau’s singing style and the format of the track have a slight reggae feel to them, while the music is a great mix of synth, new wave, and alt rock. You may not know what the song is about, but you do know it’s awesome.

One thing that makes this band stand out are their song topics. “Agora” addresses agoraphobia and the effect it has on the protagonist’s social life. Even though it’s another catchy track, it has a moment of bleakness when Rau sings “When I am gone/Ain’t no more crying.” The same goes for “Sleeping on the Floor.” The listener is greeted with fun, upbeat music, but the lyrics talk about a hoarder defending their behavior. Though the topic of shitty friends has been covered before, Bear Hands makes it more relatable on the bittersweet “Bad Friend.” It talks about that one person who you can’t depend on and maybe you don’t talk to them as much, but you can’t help but love them. They probably aren’t the first band to talk about these issues, but you don’t find many of them doing it in 2014.

While tracks like the 80’s inspired “Bone Digger” and paranoid “Party Hats” will be stuck in your heads for days, there are a couple of songs that aren’t that great. “Thought Wrong” is interesting in terms of music since it has a hip-hop feel, but it’s kind of dull compared to other exciting songs on the LP. It’s really slow and Rau sings softly about the end of a relationship. It’s not terrible, but when most of your album is upbeat and fun it doesn’t hold up well. “Vile Iowa” has the same issue. It’s another slow track with more low key singing from Rau, but this one comes off a little cheesy with the chorus “You’re a star in my eyes.” It’s supposed to be a sweet sentiment, but it misses the mark. Aside from these two tracks, the rest of the album is great.

Overall, the album gets 8/10. The catchy songs, unique topics, mesh of genres show Bear Hands to be a promising act. They’re another one of these bands that refuses to be labeled. One track has them penned as alt-rock while the next has them as a new age act with their atmospheric and flowing music. The album isn’t perfect with only a couple weak songs, but it doesn’t affected the record too much. If anything, this effort shows Bear Hands to be an interesting and talented band, who will hopefully make more genre defying music in the future.

Cage the Elephant: So Good I Needed it Twice

20140803_011438Cage the Elephant at the Vic August 2, 2014

While most music fans were enjoying the rain and mud that waited for them at Lollapalooza, I waited in line outside the Vic Saturday night for a sold out Cage the Elephant show. I already saw them in May, but when this show was announced I knew I had to go. They’re such an amazing live band I never want to miss them when they come to their favorite city. And as I expected, they delivered even harder this time around.

The first time Cage the Elephant came to Chicago this year, The Foals opened for them. I did enjoy them quite a bit, but I liked Bear Hands even more. Their songs were fun, energetic, and entertaining. I was really impressed by how each member could play every instrument on stage. It was great to see the drummer banging away on his kit to then play keyboard on the next track. Also, their songs were pretty short, which was my biggest issue with The Foals. I liked their songs a lot, but I was so eager to see Cage the Elephant I just wanted them off the stage. It also didn’t help that their songs felt ten minutes long.

Because I had such a great spot I could see the band in all their glory. They all came out one by one with guitarist Nick Bockrath showing off his Bulls jersey, number 23 of course. Brad Shultz stepped up to the mic and said “Two years ago we stood on this stage and had the best show of our lives.” When Matt Shultz sauntered out, the place exploded and hearts were broken. Looking suave in a black button up shirt and white pants, he wiggled and clapped along to “Spiderhead.” Even though they put on a great show at the Aragon it was even better at the Vic. They sounded amazing and Matt gave his all when it came to signing. Plus, it’s hard not to be infected by his Elaine-like writhing dance moves.

I was a little disappointed with the setlist because it was exactly what they played earlier in the year. Since this was a 17 and older show and an aftershow for Lollapalooza, I thought they would either have a longer setlist or toss in some different songs. Though this didn’t happen, I still enjoyed their performance. They put so much energy, passion, and insanity into their show I didn’t mind hearing the songs again. It also helps that the setlist is pretty good in the first place. Also, it’s impossible to not fall in love with Matt. Every time I see him hop, bounce, and shake on stage I only like him more. He even brought up some new moves like sitting on his brother’s back while he plays guitar. It was really cool to see and made the crowd go nuts.

Some of the biggest highlights included a massive sing along during “Come a Little Closer,” “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” and “Shake Me Down,” which found the singer stopping several times to let the audience take over. A funny moment happened when a bra was tossed on stage. Matt picked it up and said “Thanks. Is this some sort of chin strap?” As you would expect there was a lot of stage diving. This time Brad and Nick joined Matt on the action. As Matt waded through the crowd, he was handed a Sox hat, which he put on. He then motioned to someone else and was handed a Cubs hat. Rather than choosing favorites, he rocked them both and made sure to return the hats to their rightful owners. There was also a bit where cigarettes were tossed on stage. Matt picked it up and started ranting about how much he hated menthol cigarettes. It was random, weird, and slightly adorable.

All throughout, each member made sure the crowd knew how much they loved them and the city. Some blew kisses, some waved, but Brad said it best with “We fucking love you! Everyone in this room!” It’s an unwritten rule that every band on tour has to “love”every place they visit, but what makes Cage the Elephant so genuine is the amount of times they performed in the city in one year. They’ve already played four different shows here and will come back with the Black Keys this fall. That’s gotta be love. I know I already said it many times, but I’m gonna say it again: Cage the Elephant kick ass live. No matter how many of their shows you attend, they’re all memorable and epic.

Complete Setlist:

Spiderhead

In One Ear

Aberdeen

Take It or Leave It

Cigarette Daydreams

Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked

Halo

Telescope

Back Against the Wall

Black Widow

It’s Just Forever

Teeth

Come a Little Closer

Encore:

Shake Me Down

Sabertooth Tiger