The words bill, dance and shiner could probably describe a pretty action-packed night out if you‘re that way inclined; just as the words bear and hug could describe a good way to spend a night in. Luckily this Sydney five-piece don’t seem the aggressive sort; their music is less of a rip-your-ears-off-and-shit-all-over-your-corpse-just-for-the-fun-of-it grizzly bear hug; but something closer to a friendly panda type hug. With influences coming from a mixture of fuzzy, Dinosaur Jr-style guitar licks and the best of dreamy ‘90s indie pop, Bearhug have made one of the best Australian debuts of 2012 so far.
While you may think the likes of J. Mascis’s wall of superfuzz and guitar pop in the style of say, The Lemonheads, have no worldly right being on the same record, Bearhug manage to take the two sounds and fuse them seamlessly, with the tripped-out psychedelic jams of one and the shimmering pop melodies of the other both having a part to play in making this album what it is.
Opener ‘Over The Hill’ is the most straight-up guitar track on the album, as well as being one of the best. Nicholas Mabbit’s drums drive the track along, with guitarist Jesse Bayley letting loose on some noisy solos mid-song, before the tempo is slowed as it fades out. Singer Ryan Phelan’s vocals immediately come off sounding like J Mascis with more range and clarity; which is no bad thing.
Third track ‘Angeline’ is another highlight; it’s three minutes of west-coast pop riffs both charming and instantly-catchy, with a spot of fuzzy guitar crunching thrown in for good measure. While it feels like summer is ending rather than just getting started, the upbeat and ‘fuck-it-all’ attitude is infectious.
The Wurlitzer-heavy ‘Cinema West’ couldn’t be more laid-back if it tried, despite the “I just wanna shoot my gun” lyric. The same could be said for the first half of ‘When I Shake’, before it builds up into a swirling maelstrom of guitar noise, before coming back down in a series of beautifully-floating guitar chimes.
Penultimate track ‘Home’ is ninety seconds of catchy, punky, fuzzy guitar blasts which sound as if the bastard child of Dinosaur Jr and Pavement was raised by Sonic Youth. Closer ‘Cold Stream’ starts off sounding epically ballad-y before kicking up a gear to a triumphant and almighty close.
Bill, Dance, Shiner is one of those albums that sounds like it was rattled off in the studio in a short time, when it probably wasn’t at all; and I mean that in the best way possible. There’s a real art to sounding a little loose yet completely tight at the same time, and Bearhug have it down pat. While the influences are obvious, the quality of the songs on the album make Bearhug sound like nothing but Bearhug, much like Yuck have taken their influences and put their own stamp on them. There’s restraint here too; they sound like they could go off on some ridiculously-long wig-out jams, but hold back for the sake of the songs.
If you like any of the bands mentioned here, get your grubby mitts on some Bearhug. You won’t be disappointed.