When it comes to the burgeoning music scene Mecca that is present-day Austin, Texas, I sometimes wonder where all the talent comes from. This year alone has seen the breakout of such acts as Sound Team, The Black Angels, and I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness (that name never stops sounding totally awesome!). Golden Bear is no exception, emerging from the forest and onto a scene that shows no sign of running dry anytime soon. On their self-titled debut, Golden Bear turn down the gloom of the aforementioned bands in favor of a sunnier, quirkily orchestrated blend of pop sounds. Released by budding C-Side Records, the band shares members from city and label mates The Channel, and more than a few similarities in their musical approach.
Lush compositions, incorporating everything from vibraphone, kazoo, moog and even trash can lids and a can of nuts color the palette of Golden Bear with a tenacity unseen since the noise-rock days of early Flaming Lips. Lead singer and guitarist Chris “Grizzle” Gregory intones with the likes of Lips front man Wayne Coyne; a slightly off-key, yet endlessly endearing whine that’s convincing in spite of its limitations. With song titles like “A Reason To Be Proud,” Victory Is Ours,” and “Wonderful,” Golden Bear wear their lighthearted nature on their sleeves. But it’s a welcome reminder that music can be just as affecting when celebratory and, dare I say, optimistic, as when it’s introspective and pensive.
The sing-along chorus of “Ten Thousand Orchestras,” with its Shins-like swirling synths and abundant harmonies, marches like a summertime parade. It’s clear from the get-go that Gregory and his bandmates have fun crafting smile inducing pop tunes. “Silent Prayer” reaches for the stars in a “Space Oddity” meets Soft Bulletin style saga beyond the Milky Way. And while it may take a few more releases before Golden Bear attains the celestial grandeur of At War With The Mystics, they’re well on their way to reaching the upper atmosphere. The band exposes its twangy side with the surprising slide guitar of “The Saddest Songs,” (which ironically isn’t that sad at all) and the rockin’ alt-country of “Lady Soul.” Golden Bear keep things positive on the uplifting “The Darkest Of Days” with Gregory’s subtle harmonica and whistle solo as The Royal Forest Horns blare in the background.
While trudging through the forests on the outskirts of Austin, don’t be startled by the presence of the benign Golden Bear. He’ll guide you through 11 reassuring tunes, through glades and over streams as cymbals crash and synths cascade overhead. Even if he is a little rough around the edges at times, you can rest assured he’ll do no harm with the benevolent sounds of his woodland orchestra as it accompanies you on your journey through the forest and beyond.