Album review: Bear’s Den - Islands
PUBLISHED: 11:30 10 November 2014
Following two well-received EPs in 2012 and 2013, London outfit Bear’s Den decamp to Crouch End’s Church Studios to polish their poignant, philosophical folk-pop for their debut proper.
With singer-songwriter and west Londoner Andrew Davie’s links to Mumford & Sons and Laura Marling, it’s no surprise to hear finger-picked banjo and plangent, soul-searching folk in Islands, but to write them off as calculating copycats would do them a great disservice.
Having thrown themselves into gigging everywhere and anywhere and bonding in the romanticised crucible of a ‘60s VW camper van while touring across the US, Davie, banjo player Joey Haynes and drummer Kevin Jones have honed a considered folk aesthetic that makes you think on the way to each climactic instrumental surge.
Davie, inspired by Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver, favours writing from a personal precipice of one kind or another.
Thus, Above The Clouds Of Pompeii takes some Mumford-esque finger-picked banjo and leads it into lofty, brass-flecked swirls and vocal harmonies, as he chronicles a crumbling child-parent relationship.
The brass returns in the stirring denouement of Elysium, in which we’re implored to “guard your hope with your life” in a voice that suggests a worldly wisdom sadly beaten into timid submission.
And instrumental sweep melds with synth work in the transcendental When You Break, which reveals a rawer edge.
Bear’s Den have enough in their head and heart to make you sit up and take notice.