If there was ever a band that sounded like they were giving a giant bear hug to J. Mascis then it’s – ahem – Bearhug. Frontman and singer, Ryan Phelan even sounds a lot like the Dino’s J. And while that grey-haired, skateboarding elf and king of distortion no doubt gives good hugs, the band’s debut record Bill, Dance, Shiner also nods at other 90s guitar bands form the US of A by offering a careful homage without being passé.

Across nine tracks the guys deliver cool and carefree indie rock numbers of the lazy and lo-fi variety. They’ve toured with the likes of Broken Social Scene so it should come as no surprise that these youngsters have often been likened to those Canadians. The boys have also previously released two acclaimed EPs and since then have honed their skills at their rehearsal space at Hibernian House. (Now there’s gotta be a joke in there somewhere about these bears doing anything but hibernating there!)

“Over The Hill” officially opens the proceedings with a fast and poppy love song. The backbone is found in some driving drums that are coupled with guitars that simultaneously chime and fuzz while Phelan does his best deadpan impersonation of ol’ Mascis. The following, “Shiner,” changes tact a little with something far mellower that also crackles and gives the effect of everything taking place on the deep floor of a glistening, blue sea.

A natural offshoot of this is can be found in the rousing summer beat of “Angeline”. It’s meant to be a two-part tale of romantic escapism coupled with the book of Springsteen and about when everything goes to hell with good intentions. While the opposing forces of idealism and reality are readily heard, musically this one actually seems a lot closer to Vampire Weekend or The Drums rather than the Boss, but who’s counting?

Just as the listener gets comfortable with all the sugar and sunshine on offer (like “Home” which sounds a little like Jebediah) the guys go and decide to throw some more unexpected curveballs. “Cherry Red” provides some tear-soaked finery before it segues off into a gentle hum. “When I Shake” and closer, “Cold Stream” meanwhile, are a lot more dream-like and swirling with a trip to the land of Nod as fitting an ending as any to this rather complex and powerful affair.

Bearhug may not be reinventing the wheel but these nine personal tales of romance are delivered in such a relaxed and laidback fashion that it often feels like the boys are sitting on a large, comfortable armchair as they take the listener on the best kind of journey through the past. This portrait may promise rather insular consolation but this is often at odds with the sweeping and vast musical layers that are found in their music. But no matter what, their debut is very likeable, welcoming and as feel-good as a classic pop record. And that’s not considering that it’s also exuberant and pretty to boot, which begs the question, “Are there any honey pots left this lot don’t have their paws in?”

Originally published on 19 June 2012 at the following website:

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