Bear's Den - Red Earth & Pouring Rain (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
BEAR’S Den are a band who are never short on ambition. From the emotional complexity that’s always inherent in their lyrics to the movie-style videos that frequently accompany them, there’s a wealth of material to be gleaned from their songs for anyone willing to delve deep enough.
In that way, they deserve to be positioned among like-minded bands such as Elbow and Mumford & Sons for the way in which they consistently deliver songs to make you think, while retaining the more pop edge of acts like Snow Patrol.
Hence, their sophomore album, Red Earth & Pouring Rain offers easy accessibility instrumentally, with something really articulate. It’s a worthy successor to 2014’s Ivor Novello nominated Islands.
On this occasion, the influences range from the paintings of Edward Hopper, to the novels of Raymond Carver via film director Robert Altman’s Short Cuts. And yet, the songs also draw from the intimate and personal at times.
Instrumentally, the album continues to draw from the band’s folk roots, while also extending to the lush alchemy of ’70s and ’80s FM rock: Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, and in particular, the nocturnal ambience of Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness On The Edge Of Town.
The latter LP is particularly evident on tracks like Roses On A Breeze, a low-key favourite, that has a beauty to its melancholy that’s utterly intoxicating. It’s a song about loss that retains a fateful sense of optimism (“you’ll always be the love of my life”). And it’s heart-melting.
In terms of song composition, Bear’s Den could, arguably, be faulted for adopting a similar kind of approach to much of their song-writing – the slow-build epic. But even so, they do it so well that you can’t help but be smitten for most of the time.
Further evidence of their ability to beguile or seduce can be found on former single Gabriel (yet another highlight), which is both moody and beguiling, as well as being the kind of song that’s designed to ask questions of its protagonist (“is this all I am? Is this all I ever was?”).
And yet as shot through with doubt and uncertainty as the lyrics certainly are, there’s a sense of hope too that’s further enhanced by the instrumentals. The guitar, or banjo, that weaves its way lazily in and out provides a great hook to heighten the enjoyment, while the central call of “Gabriel, just don’t leave me alone” suggests that help is at hand. Hence, it’s a quietly reassuring offering.
Perhaps less optimistic, yet no less beautiful, is the staggeringly poignant Love Can’t Stand Alone, which finds Andrew Davie at the peak of his vocal form: haunted, aching, yet somehow calming in his delivery. The emotion here is genuinely raw, especially early on when the instrumentals are stripped back to the barest minimum. The sense of loss, of sorrow, is all pervading (“I sat there and cried until the morning/I’ll never leave you out in the cold”).
The lush, gentle acoustics of Greenwoods Bethlehem, on the other hand, boasts a somewhat breezier sentiment with lyrics that recall running in the rain and potentially happier times – albeit tempered with a bittersweet element that notes how things have changed. It remains a more upbeat record instrumentally and is further evidence of this band’s ability to create soundscapes that entrance.
If some of the aforementioned descriptions suggest a somewhat downbeat, even sombre listen, then it’s to Bear’s Den’s immense credit that the album as a whole never feels that way. Rather, it captivates with the layered beauty of its songs.
And not every track adopts the same slow-build approach. Opener and title track Red Earth & Pouring Rain hits the ground running with some striking guitar work and neat electronic elements, as well as some stirring lyrics (“I don’t want to break it off, to break it off/remember what we found, no one can ever take that away”). While Fortress opens up fairly quickly, adopting a harder guitar backdrop and a greater potency.
The striking guitar intro of final track Napoleon, meanwhile, offers another track to savour, with instrumental beauty running richly throughout the veins of the song. There are some very obvious Snow Patrol comparisons here, both in terms of the guitar structure and its easy accessibility, but this is steeped in a typically bittersweet sentiment that completely endears the song to the listener.
It’s a grand finale to a really fine album.
Download picks: Red Earth & Pouring Rain, Gabriel, Roses On A Breeze, Auld Wives, Love Can’t Stand Alone, Greenwoods Bethlehem, Napoleon