Bear’s Den is a three-part band from London that first caught my attention when I saw them open for someone right here in Austin. I was struck by their folksy based indie rock—some of the songs had that immediate tangibility in the live setting that comes with a group with good energy and chemistry. Islands is their debut record, one which has the group giving you ten tracks of this energy into one neat package for your consumption.
The band opens this debut with “Again,” which will immediately catch your attention for its looping banjo, full sounding acoustic guitar and steady drumbeat. This track has a cyclical kind of build to it, each time the band comes back around to the chorus they seem to have gained some steam. The vocals have this hollow yet vastly deep quality to them that intensify with the song as well as the addition of backing vocals to make them emotionally charged. Genre wise, this opener harkens that of folk, rock, and pop all in one, which is the case for the first part of the album.
Track, “Isaac,” takes a different approach than what you’ve heard thus far on Islands, turning to a softer sound that has me reminiscent of some Great Lake Swimmers track. It’s a pleasantly delicate tune, beginning with the plucking of banjo and acoustic guitar and vocals, devoid of any percussion. This song crawls along, the gang vocals combining with the instruments to generate a beauty of a number that finds itself in the lack of a steady beat created by drums. The rhythm comes directly from the expressed elements—it’s simple but also simply moving. Other well-crafted numbers that strike my fancy later on in the album are “When You Break” which has the band building up the suspense all the way through the track to its end. The song has this bubbling undercurrent of an electronic element that you may not even notice until the other elements cut out before the bridge kicks in. This is one of the best numbers on the record, and its got me listening over and over, each time the little nuances of it becoming apparent and appreciated.
While Islands is very easy on the ears, at places, it feels almost too easy. I’m left wanting some tracks that push the boundaries of folksy quiet indie rock, whereas a lot of these fall into the Mumford & Sons pattern of alternating quiet moments of stripped sound with loud twangy jam sessions. Bear’s Den moves beyond this at times, but if that’s your bag, this band does it well. Find a track or two to jam to before you hear it too many times on the radio.