Bill, Dance, Shiner
9 Track, LP (2012, Spunk)
There’s nothing but a jangling Strat that opens Bearhug’s debut record Bill, Dance, Shiner. Resting reverbed and alone for barely a bar, the all-in Bearhug ethos quickly makes its cacophonous entry; a full mix of sugar-rush snares and overdriven guitars. By the time Ryan Phelan’s murmured vocal has hummed through the occasional breakdown of fuzz, you realise that not only do Bearhug have an infectious sound, but that they suffer from the familial adoration typical of a younger cousin.
The big cousin they’re pestering at the family barbeque is Toronto’s Broken Social Scene - the sprawling collaborative affair that has stood at the centre of Canada’s lauded indie scene for more than 10 years. Half the sights, sounds and adventurousness of Bearhug seem to come from the same place. Phelan’s voice is as much his natural leaning as it is a subconscious shirt-tug at Kevin Drew, while the trumpet arrangements through the middle of the lolling ‘Cherry Red’ come straight from the imagination of Brendan Canning. But Broken Social Scene aren’t the only notable influence here. The intro to the blistering aside ‘Home’ begins with a distorted clutter pasted straight from the opening bar of Pavement’s ‘Silence Kit’ while ‘Cinema West’ screams of My Morning Jacket excess painted with a brush of torpor.
There will rarely be a time where you will hear a band sound so much like their self-proclaimed heroes, but if you can put aside that all-too-blatant homage (or are just unfamiliar with the aforementioned discographies) then you’ll find a uniquely beautiful record in Bill, Dance, Shiner; one overflowing with optimism and earnest positivity.
That optimism shines through on ‘Be Fine,’ featuring another lonely, West Coast derived guitar line; the swoon of ‘Shiner’; ‘When I Shake’s’ collage of melodies; and the record’s lead single, ‘Angeline’, which was reportedly devised as a two-part tale of romantic escapism from the book of Springsteen. These upbeat moments may be Bearhug’s most memorable, but it’s the lazy romance of tracks such as album closer ‘Cold Stream’ and the punch-drunk stupor of ‘Cherry Red’ that demonstrate the full breadth of the band. Initially drawn out lessons in lethargy, both tracks go through either an abrupt dynamic shift or a collapse into noise; arrangements that reach beyond familiar sounds to argue the case for their own creativity.
Bill, Dance, Shiner is a pleasant listen; undeniably infectious whatever the inspiration. However, it’s also a sign of the times. In a world where Gotye can unashamedly channel Peter Gabriel and Deep Sea Arcade can take blatant stabs at Brit-Pop, Bearhug can come across as just another buoy in a sea of bands resting comfortably on their influences. It sits in a strange place - a stolen collage born from the generational crotch of artful counterfeiting, but a collage that is inherently beautiful nonetheless.
by Max Easton