Sam Isaac may be another bearded singer-songwriter but he has a certain something about him. To wit, he has won over a lot of people already with near-constant touring and a slew of singles. The release of his full-length debut Bears has been a long time coming.
Hype can be a killer of course, so does Isaac have the substance to back up the big words? Isaac is an engaging songwriter and he kicks off this album with one of his best songs, the title track. A sweet little synth line frames the acoustic opening, as Isaac imagines a stage festooned with “fairy lights/as bright as any city night”. The track gradually picks up pace to become a meaty rocker, although that bubbly synth remains the focal point.
Come Back Home Tonight and Fire Fire may be generic indie pop but they are certainly catchy, replete with big choruses and driving acoustic/electric arrangements.
Sticker, Star And Tape has already become one of Isaac’s most popular songs, charming the indie kids with its mix of guitar pop and burbling electronics and a lyric that wouldn’t sound out of place on an album by The Boy Least Likely To. Listen to a line such as “some boys get broke and try and make/a mend with pens and masking tape” and imagine a thousand fragile hearts melting.
Isaac is sometimes a little too indie for his own good. Tracks such as I Traded My Friends For You and Carbon Dating are as twee as their titles. The cloying sing-along at the end of the latter is a case in point.
The slower tracks on the album, including Annie, Why Are You So Angry? And Sideways, are also problematic. The mid-tempo rhythms expose the weakness of Isaac’s limited vocal range and rely too much on over-egged string arrangements to lend substance to the songs.
Interestingly, Isaac is better when he steers away from indie pop towards a folkier sound. Berlin and Calendar are both lovely little songs that allow their melodies to shine, although especially on the former Isaac can’t resist layering more and more instruments into the mix as the song progresses.
One of the album’s loveliest melodies drives What Good Did That Do?, although Isaac’s estuary indie vocals struggle to do the tune justice. The sweeping string arrangement leads naturally into the closing Apple Tree, a charming piano ballad that is the album’s most endearing moment.
It is difficult to know what to make of Bears. Imagine an acoustic version of The Wombats and you’re close, although Isaac is certainly not as irritating as that bunch. Sometimes he tries just a little too hard, but beneath all the surface pizzazz there is a talented artist in the making.