|Album cover courtesy Esperanza Plantation.|
Bear Colony pulls off something rather spectacular with its new release, Soft Eyes, which is out this week on the Esperanza Plantation label. On its first album, We Came Here to Die, the group didn’t call itself a band, preferring instead to refer to itself as a “collective.” The descriptor made a lot of sense as the group played more in the studio than on the stage and featured a rotating stable of musicians. Listening to that album, it was obvious that Bear Colony was pulling from a deep pool of talent, but it could often sound like a different band from track to track.
Soft Eyes, by contrast, is tightly focused both in sound and concept, and expands in every way in its predecessor. Most tellingly, the sonic palette has grown from the acoustic guitar plus electronics “laptop pop” that characterized the debut release. The new release is awash with warm, hazy soundscapes, reminiscent of Jesus and Mary Chain or Sigur Rós, punctuated with ear-worming pop hooks. "Flask Retort," the album’s first single and video (posted below), is a great example of the gorgeous sonic textures constructed throughout this record, with its swimmy, distorted synthesizers and drum machine track that recalls everything good about pop music in the 80’s.
I have always thought guitar feedback is one of the most cathartic noises humans have ever learned to make. Catharsis is a frequent topic of Soft Eyes. The record was inspired by the failing health and death of lead singer Vincent Griffin’s mother, and his grief hovers over the album like an unresolved chord. The album opens and closes with the question, “After we’re dead and gone, what is left of our souls?” In between those repeated phrases, Griffin channels his anger, grief, passion, love, and even happiness into a work about loss that is as profound as it is ultimately affirming.
Bear Colony is playing two shows in the region to celebrate the release of Soft Eyes: on Friday, November 16, at George’s Majestic Lounge in Fayetteville, and on Saturday, November 17, 2012, at Revolution Music Room in Little Rock. 607, one of Little Rock’s most popular and prolific hip-hop artists, is also performing and releasing a new album, titled YIK3LIF3!, at the Little Rock show.
Full Disclosure: Bear Colony’s drummer and producer, Mattew Putman, is also in the band SnailhuntR that released an album (the utterly brilliant Origin of the Spiral) through my own record company, Bigwig Enterprises, in 2003. Brooks Tipton, who used to play keyboards for Bear Colony, was my neighbor from 2007 to 2010 or 2011. Also, I am a Facebook friend with lead singer Vincent Griffin. This review is completely biased by those relationships, but it does not change the truth that Soft Eyes is a beautifully rendered work of art, well-deserving of your patronage.