In 2014, Bear’s Den released Islands, one of my favourite albums of that year. We had a blend of banjo and guitars sewn together majestically by Andrew Davie’s gorgeous vocals in a way that made you want to throw your vinyl at Mumford & Sons shouting ‘that’s how it’s done, you fucking sell outs’.
Ahem. *Straightens blouse*.
When Red Earth & Pouring Rain landed in 2016, I made the error of seeing reviews before I had heard it and I expected the worst – Joey Haynes had left the band and I was cold with warnings of synths and drum machines. But, what I got absolutely stopped me in my tracks in a way that only Antony and the Johnsons’ I Am A Bird Now had done before. Released only a couple of months after Frightened Rabbit’s Painting Of A Panic Attack and Augustines’ This Is Your Life, both records I adore, I wasn’t sure how much more of me I could lose to music that year. but there was enough left over to be equally stunned and revived throughout.
Bear’s Den have been relatively quiet since touring that record, clearly getting beards together and writing their third full record. And, boy, it was time well spent. Despite a slightly Pickier Bastard’s attempt to spoil my weekend by asking if ‘they’d done a Coldplay’ –yeah you know who you are – I am delighted to confirm that the irritatingly non-capitalised ‘So that you might hear me’ has learnt lessons from Red Earth… but continued to deliver a wise, heart-felt. and slinky album.
‘Hiding Bottles’ is an up-tempo lesson in winking back at new-wave history through a 2019 lens, almost as if it picks up from where ‘Emeralds’ on the last record ends – “Now you can’t run away from this hell you’re in, there’s no place you can go now and start again is a lyrical cloud” to the musical silver lining. Thanks boys, mascara is gone.
‘Fossils’ moves on to familiar heartbroken territory and it is only human to be fooled into a comforting place of building beats and smooth vocals, only to realise they’re talking about you and that time you cocked it all up. Sigh.
‘Breaker/Keeper’ is this record’s ‘Dew On The Vine’ for a random, personal reason. It is at this point on both records that my inner voice asks if this is blessed music (the last time that voice piped up was to tell me Andy Hull of Manchester Orchestra sounds a bit like Barry Gibb). Am I listening to and enjoying Christian rock? The type on one of those lesser-visited Sky music channels, way beyond Scuzz or MTV Classic, ones with music videos in meadows and pine-clad modern-day, middle-America baptist churches?
‘Laurel Wreath’ and ‘Crow’ are breathtakingly beautiful, the latter a dedication to Davie’s father figure, who passed while he was in mid-teens. For the accompanying video, the band invited fans to help them show the importance of, and love for, family and I was not prepared for it – you are now.
‘Conversations With Ghosts’ will please fans of Islands/Bear’s Den Mark I with its soft yet playful skip through more fucking soul-ache, including ‘And I’ll go swimming in the caves, In the sparkle in your eyes, They’re just the tears you don’t let yourself cry’.
‘Evangeline’ and ‘Blankets of Sorrow’ wrap up this utterly wonderful, potentially blessed, record; Davie sending away our busted-up hearts with ‘I only speak so that you might hear me’. You will not be Coldplayed nor disappointed; you will be emotionally ruined and possibly born again.
Words by Lisa Whiteman.