Though New York, Seattle, Los Angeles, Austin, Portland, Montreal and Toronto will forever be the cities most often cited in the press for spawning the largest musical scenes, there’s an extended network between these corners, with smaller cities spanning the country being their own petri dishes for burgeoning musical talent. A year or so back, my brother began digging into the fertile musical happenings in Columbus, Ohio. Around the same time, a friend of mine in New London, Connecticut was singing the praises of his hometown’s musical muscle. One such scene bubbling under the radar of late is Chico, California, a town that’s yet to get its due, though not for lack of talent. There’s even a Myspace page dedicated to the many bands within the fair town, and it’s a much longer list than I honestly could have imagined. And while the styles therein run a wide range, one particular band making a sweet, sweet indie pop sound is Bear Hunter.
Bear Hunter is a name that may have connotations of brutality or ruggedness, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. This Chico three piece eschews the Ted Nugent school of riffs `n’ jerky for a moody pop sound, jangly and melodic, guitars and synthesizers swirling in a brilliant spiral. Maurice Spencer, Chris Bear (not the dude from Grizzly Bear) and Chris Hunter (now the name makes more sense…) have a creative and compelling synergy, their melodic sensibility bringing to mind such wide ranging staples as Portastatic, Cake, The Cure and Echo & The Bunnymen, yet without directly aping any of these bands.
Opening track “Drumfire Pt. 1/Syd & Mary” blooms slowly, ambient synth haze and reverb-heavy guitar awakening the song from its slumber. Soon enough, the drum machine and organ kick in, as Spencer asks “what is the best way to reach you?” With a heavier beat and a Modest Mouse-like indie rock stomp, second track “The Lie” ups the ante, while “Action/Reaction” juxtaposes spacious, glimmering melodies with a skipping Wurlitzer pre-programmed beat. And on “Seveneight,” the group even recalls a personal favorite, The Dismemberment Plan, its melodic tension comfortably sidling up next to Spencer’s paranoid inquiry, “have you ever felt like an outsider?”
If Bear Hunter is any indication of the talent lurking within Chico’s musical realm, then this central California town may be one to watch for those on the outside. In any case, Bear Hunter is most certainly a formidable new group, showing an impressive versatility on a debut that’s as strong songwriting-wise as it is dynamic.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.