If you’re going to be in a bummer mood, it’s important to have a good soundtrack. The good news is that Bear’s Den is here to help—or at least commiserate. Bear’s Den gives us their debut album Islands following two EPs over the past couple of years. The London trio is built on a solid foundation of folk-infused rock and incredibly doleful lyrics. While their music isn’t particularly ground-breaking, it’s done well.
The 12-track album starts with “Agape.” This song was on their first EP, but it shows up on Islands sounding spruced up and more powerful. This is the case with “Isaac” and “When You Break” as well. They’re older songs, but they fit into the album without feeling tired.
Things pick up with the second track, “The Love That We Stole.” This reverb-heavy song has a big sound that works really well with the tinny banjo and solid drum beat. “Above the Clouds of Pompeii” offers a melancholy narrative about death. It starts off with a simple acoustic guitar but builds steadily throughout. The addition of horns is unexpected, but mixes beautifully with the banjo and the kick drum.
“Think of England” is a really dense track about a sour relationship. If Islands wasn’t already breaking your heart then after this song, it’s going to. Followed by “Magdalene” and “When You Break,” Bear’s Den is laying the melancholy on thick.
The bleak subject matter has the potential to get too heavy, and at times, Islands walks that line. However, the harmony-laden delivery and the rich texture of each song saves it from becoming cliché.
“Above the Clouds of Pompeii” and “Elysium” are definite stand-outs. These tracks are excellent examples of Bear’s Den’s ability to craft soaring songs. The album wraps up with “Bad Blood.” This song about brutal honesty might be the most angsty of the bunch. The final vocals are delivered with a quiet, defeated tone as if all of the band’s secrets and stories have now been exposed—which is sort of what listening to Islands feels like. There is the semi-uncomfortable sense that I know too much, but there is understanding there too.
There could also be a comparison to Mumford & Sons made, but I feel like Bear’s Den isn’t quite as cut-and-dry. While the two bands might be outfitted similarly, Bear’s Den goes places lyrically that Mumford doesn’t. That being said, there isn’t anything that radical about Islands, but I think that’s what makes it a success. It has a familiarity to it. If you want well-crafted folk rock, Islands delivers.