Last year it was wolves, this year it’s bears. Teddybears, Grizzly Bear, Golden Bear, Grumpy Bear, and of course, Bears. With “bear” in an artist’s name, however, there comes both an implication of ferocity and one of cuddliness and warmth, whereas wolves are always just plain ferocious. Campers fear the bear that finds their tent and wreaks havoc, yet children snuggle up with the fuzzy critters nightly. It’s an odd duality, and despite the reality of the bear being a large and majestic creature, and fearsome when threatened, most “bear” bands don’t seem to represent either side. Cleveland’s Bears, the duo of Charlie McArthur and Craig Ramsey (who also plays in The Lovekill), seem to fall more on the cuddly side of things, however, creating a bouncy, joyous twee wonderment on their self-titled debut.
Unsurprisingly, Bears share a lot in common with The Boy Least Likely To, another duo that packs its songs with acoustic guitars, glockenspiels and pure sunshine. And like Belle & Sebastian, McArthur and Ramsey create pop masterpieces out of clever, understated charm. But Bears run wide a spectrum across their debut, turning simple lo-fi compositions into compact symphonies, broadening far beyond indie folk into the occasional psychedelic pop tune or country-tinged strummer.
The bouncy, organ-fueled “Never Have to Guess” kicks the album off with a bouncing, head-bobbing jaunt that lasts for just short of two minutes, but instantly pushes the clouds away and turns every barren hillside green. The duo (which expands to a sextet, live) rapidly shifts into minor key mode with the country-flavored “Walk Away” and fires up the farfisa on the amazing Zombies-like “How to Live,” a remarkable standout track that, though trippy and not nearly as sun-shiny as much of the other songs, brings a smile to my face every time it plays. And a similar feeling overcomes me when hearing the gorgeous xylophone harmonies of “Still Alright.”
Though each song is gorgeous in its own right, the true pinnacle of heartbreaking melody comes with “Goodbye Song,” a sweet, Beatlesque ballad with incredible vocal harmonies between McArthur and Ramsey, which seamlessly transitions into the handclappy love-in of “Still The Same.” And though the whole thing closes with the cooler, dancier “Stay,” the warmth and bliss of the 12 tracks preceding it are not long forgotten. Bears may be the comforting, fuzzy sort, rather than the type that opens cars like tin cans, but their humble sound is still quite powerful. This duo can easily hold their own against a pack of wolves.
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.