How do you get that breakthrough as a new band? How do you manage to get exposure on a national/international level? The standard wisdom is to find some kind of marketing hook – something that makes you stand out from the pack before a reviewer even gets to listen to your music. Bear Lake, from Michigan (in the US, folks), fall down at the first hurdle – at least as far as the recieved wisdom goes. They’ve a name that neither grabs attention, nor makes you grimace. They’ve a bio that’s notably lacking in grandiose statements, and their press shots show a run-of-the-mill group of twenty-something rockers.
Received wisdom can take a hike, though, because one listen to a song like catch the sun is enough to grab your attention. This is a band full of confidence – not the show-off confidence of some crowd of wannabes, but the quiet confidence of a band that knows how to write a great tune. Catch the Sun is one of those great American road songs – the bass and guitars propelling the listener right from the outset to the chorus, just as singer Matt Hines sings about leaving sorrow behind, in time to catch the sun. The song is spacious and optimistic, and while you might disagree with the sentiment (you’ve problems & pain? Turn the key in the ignition and you’ll be fine), and worry that a writer’s dictionary was artfully used to plug a gap with the word ‘tribulation’, you’d be hard-pushed to find a better song to stick in your car-stereo in the morning to raise the spirits.
Faded is another stand out track. The musicianship and production is spot on, oozing quality and experience. The chorus marks out the band’s key strength – they can build a hook, both musically and lyrically, that leaves you with a clear idea to take away from the song on just one listen. The music punctuates the punchline of the song perfectly: “Patience is dangerous, when you’ve got shit to do”.
Traverse City opens and it could be the shins, or counting crows (Sullivan Street drifts into my mind as I listen). But listening through it has it’s own sound well crafted out, with gentle nostalgia washing over the listener.
The band is based around a group of friends, all in their mid 20s that broke their teeth – musically speaking – in various different bar bands around Michigan, before deciding to throw their lot in together as Bear Lake. There’s a wealth of experience on display, and a maturity that adds meat to the melodies. This is a band where no-one is pushing or shoving himself into the limelight, and where everyone contributes perfectly to a rich and lush sound.
The other thing that make’s you sit up and take notice of Bear Lake is the diversity on show. Many bands, when capable of writing a killer tune like Catch the Sun, presume that the next smart move is to write eight or nine tunes in a similar vein. There’s a world of difference between the American rock of Catch the SUn and The Victor, which takes its signature liberally from the Beatles (respectfully done, which makes it alright), while mixing it up with a simple but clever and well-paced heavy-guitar and drum fest.
Clever, well-crafted, and original – what more do you want?