Bear's Den - Agape [EP]
There's a lovely documentary online that captures, in a kind of mirage form, the exploits of Bear's Den's last tour, which took them - via a convoy of Camper vans - from Austin to Boston. It consists of live snippets, band members hugging in genuine elation post-show, touching exchanges of sentiments and a small boy by a lake complimenting the band after hearing them play by the waterside. It's a pretty humbling affair and in a sense sets the precedence for the Agape EP, a mixture of well-weaved folk tales that embrace, with confidence, a beguiling simplicity. It can not only be vividly imagined live but also captures that live essence on record.
The EP predominantly embraces a rustic, pastoral folk, evident in its bare and bold instrumentation and clear emphasis on storytelling, on recalling and lamenting - with a charming introspection - the closely personal. There’s a wonderful dualism present throughout, not only in the lyrical content, but also inherent in the musicianship. Agony tussles with hope; sentimentality is countered by a firm rationality and relativism, defiant percussion offset by fragile vocal breaks, and potentially sickly sweet tales of love and heartbreak thankfully soured by the presence of well-anchored drums and defiant harmonies that hold a genuine substance. There's no distance, no layer of synthetics, but instead a warm intimacy that’s no doubt present ten fold when played out live.
Andrew Davie's vocal is certainly worth mentioning, it's fragile, and often faltering form is incredibly well weathered and holds a sincerity rare in someone so young. But what's more tantalising is the band's ability to weave a communal vocal that isn't founded in a singular voice, but instead holds a harmonic togetherness that's all the more resonant and enthralling.
To release an EP of such bold simplicity takes confidence, there are minimal instruments in use, and each is played in its purest fashion, there's no manipulation, no moments when boundaries are notably stretch, nothing overwhelmingly ground breaking. But arguably, that's why it's so strong, so defiant and so enrapturing. There's a peculiar modern fear that new music must always go beyond the norm, that its foundations have melted into cliché and we should always be surging forward. As a result, as Bear's Den peer back, toward and in admiration of traditional roots, they create something adversely original, certainly distinctive and commendable.
There are, however, moments of metamorphosis, when a more complex, expansive sound is unearthed. 'When you Break' is a fitting example, as at it swells into an almost anthemic spectacle, rushing under the guidance of a heartbeat-esque bass drum and accompanied by a distant, almost tortured wail of guitar that escalates perpetually, the entire sound mutating into something larger. It channels something a more capacious sound, which goes beyond the EP's overall aesthetic, it gives us a morsel of the modern. It satisfies the contemporary itch.
The beauty of the EP will no doubt come with its live translation, and the purity of the production process gives an almost voyeuristic taste of how it would feel in the flesh. But until then, the Agape EP is available in all its folk serenity, a wonderful counteraction to the ever-raging complexities of our beloved modern age. It's more than certainly worth experiencing, if only to rekindle admiration for traditional song writing and revel in the purity of well honed, bare-bones musicianship that's admirably transparent. Agape exists in revelry of its roots, rather than in spite of them, and for that it's estimable.
Purchase and listen
London three-piece Bear's Den are towards the end of their headline UK, having toured the world over the past couple of months or so supporting the likes of Daughter. Check out our photos from the night in question here at Village Underground, a location that feels like it would make an actually quite nice bear's den. [read more]
2013 has been a truly momentous year for London alt-folk three-piece Bear's Den. It started with a sold out UK headline tour, tailed with the release of their debut EP proper, Agape; a critically acclaimed release built around soaring harmonies and delicately crafted songs about love and mortality. [read more]