If ‘Blue Hours’ was the first ever Bear’s Den record that you listened to, you would be confused as to why they have been consistently labelled as ‘folk-rock’. They now seem to have fully shed that rootsy, traditional skin (I do miss the banjo, though…) and grown into a more diverse & layered sound. On their fourth album, Bear’s Den continue to sonically evolve, with the bedrock of outstanding songwriting as a constant feature.
When I spoke with Andrew Davie, one half of Bear’s Den, for XS Noize last month, he beamed that ‘Blue Hours’ was his favourite album to date, primarily because it didn’t “lean too heavily on” any of their previous material. I would agree. Its subtlety and freshness are its strengths. The predominant electronic flavour is a natural stepping stone from the previous 2019 studio release ‘So That You Might Hear Me.’
‘New Ways’ kicks off the album with tones of anthemic re-birth. Initially, a piano plays the lead as the song builds and shifts into rolling beats with a necessary motion pulling itself into a new phase, “New ways gonna have to find, new ways to get by”.
The pulsating, synthesised title track has whispers of resentment, frustration and realisation: “Don’t act like you’re so hard to find, I know where you hide / I can’t go on pretending I’m ok”. The mental battles within and between relationships are all over this album. It’s a theme that is close to the hearts of Davie and Kevin Jones, who have been very honest about their own struggles in expressing themselves in times of personal trauma or discomfort. Recently, they have worked with mental health charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably).
The beating heart of the album lies in two tracks; ’Gratitude’ and ‘Shadows’. The former is one of the few guitar-heavy outings on ‘Blue Hours’. Davie’s mum suffers from Alzheimer's and this is a touching account of trying to cling onto those good memories that you have and battling to keep them pure. Yet, this brilliant song, although heart-breaking in one sense, is not devoid of hope. The haunting ‘Shadows’ is a rival standout and sings about the inability to reach those closest to you in the midst of depression or withdrawal, “The harder I try the tighter they hold”.
‘Selective Memories’ wraps together memory, being a son and new-found fatherhood, a role that both Davie and Jones have found themselves in during the making of this album. Davie, through his lyrics, hopes that his young daughter will meet the mother that he once knew prior to the spectre of Alzheimers appearing. ‘All That You Are’ is one of Bear’s Den’s oldest songs, which Davie would normally play in a live soundcheck. It has finally found its natural place amongst ‘Blue Hours’.
Although the last handful of songs on the album do tail off a little, it is a very strong piece of work overall. Bear’s Den are quietly and confidently taking strides into a sphere that they want to move and create within. They are the music masters of being ‘old souls’, perfectly straddling that line of sounding ancient & mysterious on one hand and totally contemporary & relatable on the other.