Team Bearsuit has undergone some seemingly quite dramatic upheaval in recent times. The Norwich-based indie-poppers have recruited an all-new rhythm section (Charlene Katuwawala on bass and keyboards, Joe Naylor on drums) and, now back on Fortuna POP! for album number four, promise a “fierce new sound” to match.
The Phantom Forest – and this not only because of its title – reads like a concept album, the band’s take on a skewed fairy tale. Although it’s difficult to make out a coherent narrative thread, the multitude of references combine to this effect. Princesses and queens; heroic quests like A Train Wreck’s journey – “We conquered the forest / Tore over streams”; dragons’ arms, in Tentacles; the “magical beast” of Kwaa-Kwaa. It’s an apposite choice of imagery, since this is a band not afraid to show a childish, some might say kindergarten side.
So the apparently new-found fierceness still, at times, sounds more like a toddler throwing a strop than genuine, grown-up ire. When Will I Be Queen perfects this: all spoilt-brat drawl and shouted demands (“Where’s my mink? My entourage?”). Jim Henson’s Creature Workshops though – despite the title – demonstrates a more adult edge. This dark, post-punkish track with its shades of Bow Wow Wow, its air of chaos and dissonance and its sudden ending is one of the album’s highlights. Ghosts Of The Black Hole’s claim – “I told you from the start / I’ve got a black hole for a heart” – starts to sound a bit less unconvincing.
With all five band members contributing vocals, the diversity of sound and style can sometimes make it seem like there’s more than just one band at play here. So the lovely Cut Loose and “oooh la la” twee of Kwaa-Kwaa sound like standard indie-pop, while the electro-glitch of Please Don’t Take Him Back, with its unassuming male vocal, gets its downbeat-disco on like Cut Copy or Hot Chip. The closing track Golden Oriole starts with birdsong, piano and shimmer, and sounds as if its going to be a gentle Mono-esque post-rock epic until the wordless, harmonious “hmm hmmm” and “ahh uhh” vocals arrive. A lovely way to draw an album to a close.
It’s this diversity that contributes – along with their undoubted way with a tune (Cut Loose, Tentacles) and a harmony (Train Wreck, Kwaa-Kwaa) – much to the album’s appeal. The band have successfully managed to throw a whole range of styles, sounds and moods into the mix while still maintaining their identity as themselves. It’s an appealing combination, and one that keeps you listening and enjoying.