My album, Fugue, reviewed by Matt Elliot. See Matt’s blog here.
After underground electronic artist Bear Like Mouse completed work on his debut album This Minus Okay, a sprawling, enticing and unique array of trip hop, acoustic guitar and dark metal, he immediately began working on material for the follow up, which would take his sound in an entirely new direction. While his debut was packed with highlights and took the listener on quite the emotional journey over its 70-minute length, there was always an underlying feeling that the artist himself was never quite perfectly content with the end product; in fact, the atmosphere created by those feelings of hopelessness and frustration may have actually added to the consistency of an album that could have otherwise felt overlong and scattered. Even as the debut was actually compiled of songs written over years of creative ups and downs, it was loaded with diverse new ideas, innovative methods to create sounds and memorable melodies, but lacked an overall sense of direction and flow.
Bear Like Mouse set out to refine his sound on Fugue, and he succeeds with flying colors. Whereas vocals and impressive layers of sound at times seemed forced and excessive on the first go round, his sophomore effort shows remarkable restraint and polish, resulting in an almost symphonic effect. He takes the best elements of his previous work and combines and expands on them here over nine tracks, content to let the complex electronic orchestration do the most of talking.
Fugue is the type of album that can accompany you on a long, peaceful car ride, can wake you up gently in the morning, or help your mind drift far off into the background. It can also make you think. This isn’t exactly “mood” music per se, it is too precise and delicate to be labeled as such, but it does boast an aura of calmness and confidence as it evolves. The completely instrumental opener “Nuclear” is gorgeous and patient, and when it builds into a gentle coda around the three minute mark, it doesn’t so much explode as it pulls the listener back in, comforting them almost as a promise of things to come.
There really isn’t a weak moment anywhere here nor does the album waver with its overall style, and the only time the mood seems to shift suddenly, it does so with dramatic and meaningful effect. Centerpiece “Dirge/M” is nine minutes of completely repetitive acoustic guitar and electronic piano instrumentation that builds so subtlely with its nuanced undertones- there’s elements of an electronic horn, a fluttering guitar noise, and a soaring, whispy bit of lifted distortion that beckons Godspeed You Black Emperor- that express the aftermath of a relationship that has died.
But the tone takes a sudden turn with the equally devastating but musically opposite “Saigon and On and On”, a spectacularly loud scream fest that hits the listener like a shot to the heart and ponders the meaning of life in not the fondest light. Synthesized drums and brooding electronic horn sounds combine as we hear high pitched lyrics such as “We are slaves/ We suffer the same”, “We suffer the sun/ To wait for a point” and the honest, most desperate line of all, “There’s got to be more.” Despite its authority and anger, pound for pound, this may be the saddest track in the entire Bear Like Mouse catalog, and that’s saying something for an artist that doesn’t exactly have a penchant for creating songs filled with sappy optimism.
Perhaps the album’s best stretch comes early on. The slowly building melancholy of “Of Bird and Bullet”, perhaps the most approachable and straightforward track here from a song structure standpoint, seems harmless enough until it explodes with screaming but spot on vocals through its massive crescendo and elevates itself to standout status. The tension is taken down a notch after that with “Capital B”, perhaps the most relaxing, beautiful song in the entire Bear Like Mouse catalog. This is the type of song that makes you want to sail into the sunset and just keep going, and it showcases an unusual time signature complete with electronic horns and an airy, atmospheric falsetto vocal through the chorus that is in perfect contrast with the nonchalant, almost spoken word vocal style of the verses.
There’s plenty of innovation here as well, including the impressive electronic synth loop towards the end of the steady “River”, and an electronic violin above a trip hop beat on the beautifully textured “Oslo Also”, the first genuinely optimistic Bear Like Mouse love song. Again, the vocals on both tracks are very subtle and almost unnoticeable, but provide melodic structure rather than interference with the music itself.
Perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of Fugue, and of Bear Like Mouse’s music in general, is the mystery behind the origin of some of these musical sounds. Penultimate track “Cleary and Crux” serves as the calm before the storm, with an addictive rolling percussion track, a repetitive clanking sound created from wires, cowbells and a drum stick above lifted vocals that seem just out of reach, kind of like how a song sounds in your brain right after you wake up from a musical dream. And it is all just a set up for the closer and highlight track, the 16 minute epic “Rue St. Anne.”
Beginning with an industrial grind and heavy percussion, this evolves into a call-to-arms masterpiece, with electric guitar swirling beneath massive, epileptic drum track change ups. This is the sort of song I imagine playing in my head before going into the deciding battle of a war, or before making a life or death decision, or some kind of a monumental, life-changing and ultimately serious event. In its final half, the considerable intensity surrenders into distorted shoegaze and eerie choral and violin notes that leave some uncertainty as to the outcome of the battle. And more relevently and poignantly, what exactly was the battle for in the first place? Perhaps only Bear Like Mouse himself knows for sure, but I’ll happily keep listening to figure it out for myself, even if I never do.
My second album, Fugue, has been available for free on Bandcamp for two months now. But, in the interest of capitalism, I’ve decided not to be such a hippie about distributing my music for free and will be making Fugue available on iTunes, Rhapsody, Amazon.com, and a bunch of other middleperson websites. That is, unless, I can find a label who wants to release this, which would really be ideal because it would bankroll the things I’m about to write about in a minute.
Why am I telling you?
Because, just in case you haven’t downloaded it yet, you’ve still got a three-ish week window to DOWNLOAD ‘Fugue’ FOR FREE.
So… wait, why do you care about the money?
Because, oh holy shit, you have no idea how awesome the third album will be. And awesome shit ain’t cheap.
Work on the third album has commenced. It’s ambitious. Possibly too ambitious. Principle recording will happen between a cabin with no electricity and a century-old lighthouse in Lubec, ME. After that, it will be back to San Francisco to finish the album in a studio. By the way, Lubec is the Easternmost city in the US. And, if you don’t count Hawaii, you can get much more west than San Francisco.
San Francisco / Black Girl
San Francisco is now the cave Bear Like Mouse calls home. It is also the home of some artists that have exerted the most influence over me. Bands like Oxbow, Xiu Xiu, and Neurosis. I also find that the fog nourishes me.
The first thing I did after moving here was finish Fugue. The second thing I did was hook up with Oakland-based DJ, Zoo Kroo. Together, we put together a nine-minute trip-hop single called “Black Girl” that is all about deep, focused groove. And an oboe. Also a jazz flute.
I think it’s one of the coolest, and most trance inducing tracks I’ve done, and I include the Sleep, Pea single in that statement.
I can’t remember the last time I heard a truly good band from Los Angeles. San Diego; maybe; but even then there’s gotta be something about the weather that prevents heavy music from excelling in that region. Case-in-point: where do most great heavy bands come from? Scandanavia and North-Eastern US- where it’s cold and bleak most of the time. That seasonal affectation does wonders for bands- which is why LA might be great for punk bands, but rarely any extreme bands.
But then there’s Don the Reader. An LA-based band that started out with a grind mentality, trying to deliberately draw from The Locust and The Dillinger Escape Plan but has since elevated themselves into a pretty unique sound from the genre. Punishing and technical song writing, slightly reminiscent of Botch and Converge – an unabashedly early oughts/late nineties sound pushed further to legitimately hold their own against a well perfected genre. Their debut eponymous EP, which you can download below gratis Don the Reader, is a straight-down-your-throat attempt at trying to make their own versions of familiar hardcore standards. It’s absolutely forceful, very well recorded, and with only a smidgen of pretension.
However, it’s what they’ve been doing after that EP that has put them in nearly constant rotation for me. Their Myspace page contains two rough mixes of new songs, “ConSciolist” and “Makeshift Splendor” that are fucking wonderful testaments of the post-pubescent breakthrough for an extremely promising hardcore band. Finding their stride in odd-time signatures, remembering to make room for stomping, dissonant breakdowns that yield to ethereal, post-rock meditations. To be certain, this is absolutely not a hardcore band trying to jam Explosions in the Sky into their song as is so often done these days. There is no focus on a climax here- it’s a numbing and concentrated trek away from the blistering riffs and into someplace simultaneously beautiful and awful. Echoing guitars collide with each other in the reverb, over a monologue from the 1976 movie, Network, creating something blissful.
Don the Reader is a gem. They’re one of those moments that made me wish I had my own record label, so I could extol, if not force upon everyone, just how fucking good this band is.
Go to their Myspace page and listen to what I’m talking about.
LISTN | And As the Faucet Floods
DOWNLOAD | Don the Reader EP
I had been waiting for this album for a while. Whereas their post-rock brethren (who are more a collection of orphans rather than of lineage) spend time trying to create opuses drenched in walls of sound, operate under formulas that give little creative latitude, and function meditatively and patiently, Russian Circles is the white one in a field of black sheep.
For being only a trio, Russian Circles are able to create songs that are simultaneously massive and articulate. The confluence of precise and creative drums, locomotive bass, and dextrous and powerful riffing works like a military- where efficiency and lethality are critical. In the hands of these artisans they bring us their second (kinda third) EP, Station.
And I’m a little torn- On the one hand, this album is fantastic. On the other hand, it’s not what I was
looking hoping for. Their first (quasi) major release, “Enter”, which was more-or-less the rerecording of their original EP with the addition of the title track, was brutal and complex; low-key and morose on tracks like “Micah” to the violent and volatile title track. It wasn’t at all playful or even too open to interpretation- the drums and guitar were simply feeding coal into the engine of a train on rails already lain by Russian Circles (which I think was bearing somewhere between Siberia and Hell). On this album, however, they’ve taken their time with the songs. They’ve omitted climactic overtures in exchange for a few “where is this going” build-ups that just don’t go anywhere. That kind of abstinence could be considered tastefully reserved, but here- for me- it’s musical blue balls.
At the same time, it almost feels greedy to ask for more. Mike Sullivan is already carrying the weight of two or three Guitarists in his loop pedal and PRS. But I want it anyway. Sorry dudes (i still severely love you).
So it’s not the post-metal progressive behemoth that Enter was. But it’s a significant and strong follow-up to Enter. There are a few transcendent moments on this album reminiscent of the six-string fury that was spattered all over the first album like a blacklight in a motel room. Notably, “Harper Lewis” and “Youngblood.” Here they’ve chosen to marinate these moments a little more- pull back on the autistically manipulated guitar, and put more gas under the rhythm section.
Climax or not, Russian Circles do on this album what they do best. Hitting the nail right through the intersection of musicianship and passion. I give it a 7. Buy it now.
Upon further listen, there’s nothing in this album that will stick with you a week after listening. Dropping this down to a 5. Still listen to the things below though because it is badass.
LISTN | Harper Lewis
WTCH | Harper Lewis live in Chicago
Russian Circles, whom we love, are about to release a new album on Suicide Squeeze records called Station. They just posted a song on Pitchfork/iMeem (OMG which came first) from the new album called “Harper Lewis”.
The good news is that it’s all good news. This song definitely harkens a less prog-driven album since the drums are much less poly-rhythmic and much more a floor tom and snare pummel and their newly recruited bass player (formerly of These Arms Are Snakes) stays low on the neck and strums out deep, brooding lows.
The guitar player is still just a bad ass. Halfway through the song his hands shift up the guitar-neck and start tapping out notes. The way he’s able to dance his fingers across that fret board must make him a formidable whack-a-mole opponent. Can not wait for this album to come out.
I own and operated (or at least one of those) this blog. So I get to choose the song of the day. It’s a positively delightful experience to wield this much power. I have absolutely no readership and even if I did, the things I say are probably not convincing enough to sway anyone anyway. And for that reason, I present to you (two) today’s download from a little band called bearlikemouse.
What the hell is a bearlikemouse? Bearlikemouse is an abbreviation of The Bear That Looked More Like a Mouse which was a character in a story (novel) I wrote in college. It’s actually way better than it sounds. Anyway, the name quickly became bearlikemouse which I found was really sticky. So much so that it, like, stuck.
What else is a bearlikemouse? It started out about 4 years ago when I first started learning how to record music. I would sit in my basement with a (at that time) four-track cassette recorder and tape a really horrible microphone to my amp and record a cheesy Casio drum beat for rhythm. Time passed, I started receiving a pay check, and more and more money was dumped into music gear. My good friend Ben Sutton with whom I played in a
shitty rock band called Sidereal started helping all the time. Then I realized he was better at guitar than I was and had more patience for editing tracks than I do. So it was informally agreed upon that he, too, is bearlikemouse.
Things have come a long way since I was 21, drinking crappy beer, and plugging a distortion pedal into the loop of my tiny travel amp. I have way bigger, more expensive amps, have gone digital with recording, and have microphones that were obscenely expensive. Not to mention a pedal board that has more stops than an inner-city bus.
The below track, Definite Hemography, is probably the best song to date. Ben and I made a trip down to his lake house with our trunks and backseats full of musical gear. Picked up a bottle of Jack and set up for a weekend of recording in a tiny house, in the middle of the snow-covered woods.
GO TO | Definite Hemography