A couple of months back a self-released album entitled You Will Be Heard! arrived in the Party Pooper mailbox from Chico, CA band Bear Hunter. (Before you entertain any snarky ideas as to the origin of their name, as I did, note that the guitarist is named Chris Hunter and the drummer is Clint Bear. Still, the name is painfully too close to that of our well known friends 65 miles to the west.) At any rate, I admit it took me several listens before I fell into the album but, once I did, I was fully inside it. If you’re willing to invest the time that’s a particularly gratifying way to experience a record. The phenomenon is akin to studying a subject, not quite getting it and then having that “A-ha!” moment where you not only understand but have, by then, spent enough time with it to form have formed an instantaneous connection once understanding has been gained.
Operating via a huge-sounding, simply orchestrated process of utilizing vintage instruments with home-recording technology (which, really, means so much more than it did even 5 years ago) Bear Hunter have crafted an emotional whirlpool which one can only assume was written because it was into such a pool at least one of them fell.
Thoroughly versed in the standards of classic and modern pop Bear Hunter manages to create something vital on You Will Be Heard. And, in the best sense of the term and with thoughts of other masters of the form in mind, Bear Hunter’s songs weave through heartbreak and confusion with more than merely a depressed resolution; they make demands of their subjects, interject seemingly necessary cruelty and do much more than say “why?”. Bear Hunter says, for lack of better terms but with appropriate frustration-laden ham-fistedness, “Why, God dammit!”
The best songs on the album are those which say exactly that. “Action/Reaction” says, “I was so sure/I’d done everything down to the detail/With the horns and the mask, the unholy host, Alpha to Omega/But I wasn’t faster than fire/and wound up in crutches with a story to tell…If you’re for dreams and honest action/just relax and let it happen“ (emphasis added).
The curiosity of that last lyric is not insignificant. In “Action/Reaction” the protagonist yearns for connection and acceptance but uses a rapists admonition. He is seeking to be understood but asks the object of his affection to let down her defenses. The point here isn’t to take Bear Hunter to task for saying such things but to praise them for illuminating clearly that this is exactly what frustrated paramours are always asking. What seems necessary is not a change in the language that we use but, rather, a further questioning of whether love (romantic love, as we think of it) is truly a meeting of equals or, rather, a balance which is tipped each way at various times and makes each party, at various times, either possessor or one possessed.
On the unfortunately titled “My Nemesis The Cheese Grater” the band reaches a simple resolution but not one that is entirely painless: “No I won’t apologize for the things that I may say/in the darkness of night or the heat of a fight but/I won’t keep it all locked away til it builds to a boil/and bursts in a great big ball of hate…You left a crippling mark on my body/Became a contagious scar, it isn’t easy to see/But I give you credit for that part of me/That freaks with every fleeting urge to mount her/At every indiscreet encounter.“
Surrounding the lyrics throughout the album are tunes worthy of any Flaming Lips record of the past ten years. That is, the tunes themselves are thoughtful and fitting, not mere backing sounds. The tunesmithing is tasteful yet not conservative. The music itself speaks as loudly, and clearly, as the albums lyrics and Bear Hunter understands this phenomenon completely. In seeking to lyrically relate this the band, on “The Miscommunication Age”, says, “Over wires and waves/We can navigate/Still we fail to mean what we say/Too ashamed or afraid…And so we paint pictures on the walls of caves/’Cause there’s nothing we say that we can’t/miscommunicate, in this godless, unbearable age/When your feet lose the strength to stand/You strike up the band.”
All in all, a wonderful achievement and a new favorite of 2007.