Posted on November 26th, 2010 (5:24 pm) by Chad Flanders

We might as well start with the worst part of this album: the cover. What ostensibly is a young man slurping soup out of bowl actually looks like someone hurling. Or at least there’s the shadow of a doubt about whether the stuff is going in the guy’s mouth rather than out. The cover shouldn’t have made it past development. Even the boy’s head on the cover looks glitchy. Awful. Awful. But fortunately, listening to the album doesn’t mean staring at the album cover. And it’s a really great album. Bear Hands is doing sort of a bargain basement, pay-as-you-go lower-fi Animal Collective, and the sound is sweet and mesmerizing. If Bear Hands doesn’t experiment as much as Animal Collective does, this is to its credit. There are few confusing tangents characteristic of early Animal Collective. Bear Hands is tighter, better.

Things start out right with the simple and hooky “Crime Pays”, with its neat lyrical mantra -- “Everybody knows that crime pays, and everybody does it” – asking us to acknowledge the benefits of less-than-perfect behavior, and then to admit our complicity in it. “Belongings”, a little more shapeless, segues nicely into “What A Drag” (previously released on an EP), which again beguiles by not trying anything too hard. It has a straightforward beat, and a nice shouted chorus about dreaming of someone’s “God Damn long nails.”

It’s with “What A Drag” that the nagging feeling that Bear Hands sounds like someone we’ve heard before becomes clear: they’re channeling Jane’s Addiction, of Nothing’s Shocking. They’ve got more interesting and experimental melodies, to be sure, but the same half-scream, half-cry is certainly there in the vocals. Somehow, Bear Hands makes the sound more palatable that Jane’s Addiction ever did.

The album crests in the middle, with “High Society” and “Tablasaurus”. The pace is just right: up-tempo but easy. The repetitive lyrics build to satisfying crescendos, rather than simply dulling the senses. There’s a real freshness to these lyrics, and an appearance of depth that doesn’t dissipate even after repeated listenings. “Julien Donkey Boy” proves that Bear Hands can slow it down without losing any of the power behind their music. When the vocals soar, they take on an ethereal quality that reminds us, yet again, of Animal Collective at its psychedelic best. If the rest of the album dips and sags just a little bit – especially on the rather uninspired and dirgy “Camel Convention” – there’s no sign of the band giving up. There are still some great moments. The too short “Tall Trees” is a nearly perfect ending to the album, leaving us wanting much more from this promising group.

Bear Hands is cheeky enough to pose on their MySpace page with the picture of a banana-shaped race car trophy. They will win more accolades than that with this strong debut. You should take a listen to this band, ignore the album cover, and enjoy.

Track List:

1. Crime Pays
2. Belongings
3. What A Drag
4. High Society
5. Tablasarus
6. Julien Donkey Boy
7. Wickey Boxing
8. Blood and Treasure
9. Can’t Stick Em
10. Camel Convention
11. Tall Trees

Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

85 / 100
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