Sunday, 25 June 2017

Album of the Month: Bear Worship - WAS

Bear Worship Was

Info: Bear Worship is a celebration. It's about positivity and realism, love and friends, passion and nostalgia, and the need for creativity. After a string of well regarded singles which have received airplay on RTE and the BBC, featured in myriad blogs, and ended up in a number of end-of-year lists, Bear Worship’s debut album WAS was released on the 15th June 2017, with a premiere on The Thin Air.

The backbone of WAS’s sound is drums and bass guitar, and layered above are
swathes of synthesizer, guitar, arpeggios, and harmonies, all topped off with Bear Worship’s distinctive vocals. Sonically it lies somewhere between Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective, with other touchstones being Deerhunter, St Vincent, Oh No Ono, Giorgio Moroder, Air, Tame Impala, and the Beach Boys. The songs were written and recorded between Bear Worship's home studio and Stephen Shannon's Experimental Audio (Adrian Crowley, Barry McCormack, the Late David Turpin, Strands).

Bear Worship WAS Album Cover

We've never made any secret of how much we love the wondrously dreamy electro-pop of Dublin's Bear Worship (Karl Knuttel), as each single dropped over the last year and a bit that love only grew, and most happily, his debut album WAS is brimming with new songs that match the magic of the singles.

I suppose one of the criteria for selecting an AOTM must be that most of the tracks on the LP are better than very good. From the very beginning of WAS on opening track (and latest single) 'Art in the Artifice' Bear Worship weaves his completely individual ability to shine brightness on the most needy corners of our musical souls. As mentioned in the previous review of the single, it certainly doffs it's cap to one of his self-ascribed influences Animal Collective, but only on the track's instrumental bridge. It's a delightful start to the album, but there's little time to reflect on that as we're lead straight into the magnificent 'Shimmerings'.

Dream.pop.acid.trip.candy. 'Shimmerings' is one of those rarities that you may or may not hear during the course of releases throughout a year, it gives all of itself and asks for nothing in return. It's a bone fide earworm and an exemplary piece of psychedelic dream pop, a shuddering bass-line powers the motion behind the track, with what sound like multi-layers of electronic soundscapes jostling for position around the vocals, perfect.

'Galapagos' momentarily reduces the tempo on WAS, with Bear Worship stripping down to vocal and guitar on it's opening minute, but it's short-lived as drums and bass join the fray, probably the most indie-pop moment on the album which shows we are not dealing with any one-trick pony here.

Bear Worship - Our Friends

We then arrive at my very own introduction to Bear Worship, a track that blew my brain apart when I first heard it, and still does, 'Our Friends' (above stream). "I don't belong here at all, no I don't belong here at all Do I? And you are looking kind of lost, yeah you are looking kind of lost, well so am I. We'll call our friends. We'll call our friends." Is it a dirge of despair or hope? A mixture of both? 'Our Friends' could be interpreted in many ways, an acknowledgement of isolation, a stretched out hand to a stranger or someone who was once close but has since also become a stranger, with the chorus providing a solution to sundry problems. Knuttel's vocals excel and the sound of what recalls a Formula 1 car passing a bend at high speed adds to the happy / sad balancing act so well.

After the funky mania of 'Frequency' we get to 'Pagodas', another example of how Bear Worship can reach the cartoonish pomp of Elton John, Queen or Bowie whilst simultaneously delivering a sombre message. Lyrically he deals with the idea that automation will never replace the power of artistic creativity, with the line; "Since I've discarded childish things, nothing comes close to the joy they used to bring, so I bathe in cathode rays, and I'm assaulted by the vacuum of our age", perhaps referencing the loss of dreams and submission to the overwhelming mundanity of the modern world.

Following the swagger and dramatic intensity of 'Stoicism', WAS concludes with the beautifully titled 'A Wondrous Waste of Time'. This is a lovely shift right at the end of the album, yet another string in his bow, it's a chiiled out house vibe, like a mash-up of Todd Terje, Tycho and again Bowie on the chorus. An emotional and exhilirating vocal performance from Knuttel feels like some kind of inner release of tension, a relief from something that only he knows. 

If you are a fan of any of the artists Bear Worship cites as influences, or you are partial to joyous electronic dream-pop, you will love WAS as much as it wants to love you, and instantly. One of the Irish albums of the year so far for me due to it's swash-buckling adventurousness, wall to wall solid tracks and how it lightly tickles your happy and sad emotions all along the way.