Islands opens strongly with “Agape”. A cheerful guitar melody draws you in and drums start to pound. The lead singer Andrew brings a likeable warm tone with his voice. Despite subject matters of love and loss, the mood is optimistic.
This style is sustained over the next few tracks, all the while Bear’s Den are slowly introducing elements that show their true talent as songsmiths. Expertly layered acoustic guitars, hymn like group vocals and thudding drums prove they are masters of their style.
“Magdalene” hints at a darkness lurking behind its poetic tone. The next song “When You Break”, is both the album’s high point and the emotional low point. The sensible country folk-rock takes a back seat, while a more mature brand of angst takes centre stage. An eire feedback drives the song forward and an analog synth that sounds like it would be better placed in a Daft Punk song creeps into the mix. These elements shouldn’t work together but they do and it’s a beautiful, primal outburst. The song builds to an immense wall of sound, with Andrew chanting brutally honest lyrics “So tell me another beautiful lie/Tell me everything I want to hear/Won’t you lay here by my side/I want to fuck away all my fear.” Just as you expect a massive climax, the band backs off, leaving you stranded with the accumulated weight of its despair and nothing to do with it. It’s shocking, honest and deeply affecting.
Just like the sunlight breaks through the clouds after a storm, “Stubborn Beast” comes in for damage control, heralding the beginning of an upward climb. “Elysium” continues this emotional ascent. Strings, calculated drums and soft horns guiding the listener onwards. The final song “Bad Blood”, asks for forgiveness, as if rising up to accept blame. The instruments build up together, taking you soaring through the sky and then taper off. Andrew’s voice is left wavering over gentle guitar strums, it’s a soft and tender closing to the album.
Islands is a moving experience. Focusing on the themes of love, uncertainty and loss, from many different angles. This album feels very personal, like reading a journal never meant for your eyes. It’s a very human experience. The songs in Islands certainly do stand tall on their own, but listening to the album as a whole turns it into an emotional journey. Keep an eye out for these gents, gems don’t stay hidden long.