Bear’s Den – Without/Within
Which came first; the music or the misery? As the movie’s protagonist Rob Gordon dons oversized headphones and ponders the origins of sadness and pop music we can only imagine this is the kind of record that plays.
The slow burning introduction to ‘Sahara’ has been trimmed to a stand-alone track ‘Sahara Pt. I’, further emphasising its sparseness of instrumentation and the anguish of Andrew Davie’s almost Gary Lightbody like vocal delivery. Part one is mostly an instrumental, atmospheric introduction to the EP with strings and synths building to ‘Sahara Pt. II’. Part two brings in the rhythm section with that recognisable driving beat that’s become the faux ‘house-beat’ of modern folk. At times sounding like Frightened Rabbit’s ‘Keep Yourself Warm’ it’s something of an epic showcase to open any record with and shows just how far this English three piece have come since their last EP only six months ago.
‘Don’t Let The Sun Steal You Away’ delves a little further into the past; a re-recording of a fan favourite from Davie’s former band Cherbourg. It’s possibly the most accessible track of this collection with its early morning, front porch banjo and late night, whiskey fuelled pleas. It’s the only mention of sun on the EP and offers a glimmer of something akin to hope. When combined with ‘Sophie’ we find Bear’s Den sounding their most Mumford and yet despite the minor chords, earnest banjo licks and subtly overdubbed vocal harmonies, it doesn’t take a trained ear to notice there’s a fragility and vulnerability in the songwriting that many of the new-folk contemporaries lack.
On ‘Sophie’, the hopelessness is emphasised:
Didn’t know when I started running; I’d be running for my life. Didn’t know when I started running; I’d be running my whole life.
Maybe there’s somewhere to run to. Maybe there isn’t. As the record closes amid another crescendo of bowed strings, synths and vague hints of banjo, there’s also a little swoop of brass. It’s not the bombastic oomph you’ll get from any brass section but it’s as close to euphoria and ecstasy as you’ll get on this record but then again that’s not the point.
There isn’t much in the way of hope or redemption on here. Temperatures outside are plummeting below freezing and Davie’s songwriting could have us abandon all hope and pull the covers over our heads but if you get out there you’ll find that bitter wind might just give you a sharp intake of breath, a tear in the eye and there’s always the slim chance that a low winter sun might break through the trees and light the way to somewhere else.