It’s the 6th of December 2019. It has been a hard day, but all that weariness, stress and disorder is swept away; Bear’s Den have released their new extended play (EP): ‘I am the Only Son of the Falling Snow’.
But before we enter the Bear’s Den, a talk about the band’s musical context is necessary. Bear’s Den first appeared on the musical map in 2013, with their seminal and soul-stirring EP ‘Agape’. Full of melodic guitar plucking, psychotropic lyrics and heart-wrenching beats that make my Fitbit dial 999 on my behalf, ‘Agape’ marks the expressive, but by no means defining, genesis of Bear’s Den. From this point, pinning down and categorising Bear’s Den’s exact oeuvre, in any satisfactory terms, is like up-ending my cup of tea onto the table and attempting to nail it there. Across their discography, Bear’s Den have flirted, quite successfully, with a variety of styles. Andrew Davie and Kevin Jones (the two-man team behind Bear’s Den) built upon their initial success of ‘Agape’, with their 2014 album ‘Islands’, and it sucker punches you in your sensibilities. Choc full of emotional lyrics and stirring instrumental accompaniments, ‘Islands’ contains relatable and emotive phantom-esque songs such as ‘Stubborn Beast’ and ‘Elysium’, which phase through your grey matter and leave you in a state of liberation and delicious melancholy.
But this is the thing with Bear’s Den; they are not a one-trick pony, or should I say a one-trick bear? (You shouldn’t – Editor.) Comparing ‘Islands’ and ‘Agape’ with their other songs such as ‘Red Earth and Pouring Rain’, from the amazing 2016 album of the same name, and ‘Writing on the Wall’, from their EP ‘Without / Within’, you are confronted with two entirely different beasts. Unlike their predecessors, these projects revolve around robust guitars that grab you by the throat and force you to vibe with them, like one of those Jazz clubs Will Burrows used to hate. In the case of ‘Red Earth & Pouring Rain’, synths are added that make it into one motherfucker of a track to listen to on a late-night drive, or a mid-evening walk or whatever it is you get up to in the dark hours. See also ‘Emeralds’.
Emblematic of Bear’s Den’s versatility are their covers, which include: Coffee (by Sylvan Esso), Hold On, We’re Going Home (no introduction needed) and Stay with Me (by Sam Smith), varied right?
I know exactly what you’re thinking: “that’s nice but these albums and EPs are old! what are Bear’s Den up to these days? Oh, tell me please!”
Well, they’re absolutely killing it.
After their three year hiatus, Bear’s Den have returned to their rich and contemplative roots with their 2019 album ‘So That You Might Hear Me’. While not as irresistibly catchy and smooth as 2016’s ‘Red Earth & Pouring Rain’, ‘So That You Might Hear Me’ retains the soul capturing essence of the Bear’s introspective style. When I saw them live at the Shepherd’s Bush O2, a short while after the album dropped, I saw it cause more tears than a crush’s rejection. I want to say that those tears were happy ones, but not always, part of Bear’s Den’s appeal being their cutting lyrics about familial, social, existential and personal problems that are both, oxymoronically, unique and relatable. So, I haven’t been entirely truthful. While the musical aspect of Bear’s Den’s oeuvre is harder to pin down than Boris Johnson covered in fake-tan scented lubricant, or getting that girl you met on tinder to go for a second date, one thing has been consistent through all their work: the gravitas of their lyrics.
This leads us to their latest EP ‘Only Son of the Falling Snow’.
Opening with a song of the same name, a plucky guitar progression carries us on a melodic, harmonious journey where our, let’s say protagonist, is returning “home”. This song is comprised of a supremely nostalgic tone. The protagonist reflects on his life and its pivotal moments. Andrew Davie said that this track was inspired by Ali Smith’s novel, Winter. In this vein, the song focuses on the protagonist’s winter as he reflects on the ‘ancient corridor[s]’ of his life. The song’s relatability cannot be understated as the protagonist returns to his ‘home’ and tries to mend the fractured relationships that we all have a few of, somewhere in our lives. In a typically Bear’s Den fashion, the lyrics are mysterious yet not opaque.
“And I started thinking about your eyes
There’s something magical going on when you can listen to a lyric and simultaneously understand its connotations of trouble, depth of history and familiarity without actually understanding the nuances that resulted in the lyrics moulding. When listening to the song (an important thing to do to understand this) there is something captivating about the triumphant simplicity and tone in the response to the question “where do you go wandering?” being:
“Well I… I am the only son of the falling snow”
What it means I can’t say for certain… but it, it is just right. It explains everything and nothing simultaneously.
The same can be said for the third song in the EP, Longhope. The song is set as a conversation between the protagonist and himself and a monologue towards his love. A narrative anyone who has had a relationship, of any kind, can relate to.
“Don’t leave her hanging around, she won’t wait there forever
Has a cat got your tongue?
Are words locked in your lungs?
Just breathe in and breathe out”
These exquisite lyrics are accompanied by a tentative yet hopeful guitar and beat. We can’t help but share the protagonists hope that the journey “through the sleet and the snow” is fruitful and brings us “home”. We notice the natural beauty of a “frost” covered “evergreens” that, while they may be “shad[ed]” today, will “reveal themselves tomorrow”, a beautiful metaphor for a relationship, in a rough patch but on the cusp of revival.
The locality of the Bear’s is revealed in the second song in the EP, which I have left till last due to it’s not too distant geographical location in relation to Queen Mary University, ‘The Star of Bethnal Green’. This starred song, if you’re using Apple Music (you can hate me now), is focused on a small pub in Bethnal Green, surprise surprise. Now you’ll notice that this song has strong biblical allusions. WAIT! Before you run away screaming in terror of Christian rock, I need to stress that this song is not a Christmas carol, despite having all the angelic grace of one. Neither Kevin Jones, nor Andrew Davie are religious but they have a strong interest in the themes inherent in all religions, and especially in Christianity. The themes that come out of their den are those of redemption and of reconnection. Indeed, these themes are in all of the songs across this EP. The protagonist depicts the joy of finding a ‘lord’ they have spent their “whole life” trying “to ignore”. The pure piano that accompanies this song casts the same “spell” over the listener that the “sing[ing]” does over the protagonist. This same singing is both a “christening” and a “baptism” that so awes the protagonist that they wonder if the “Star of Bethnal Green” could lead them back to Bethlehem – a prime time location for some spiritual redemption.
It may be winter but the Bears certainly aren’t hibernating.
Go listen to this three-song EP if you have a heart worth its weight.