Album Reviews

The 2 Bears – Be Strong

(Southern Fried) UK release date: 30 January 2012

The Hot Chip boys are rather well known for their other musical ventures. Al Doyle moonlighted with LCD Soundsystem and New Build, the latter with fellow band mate Felix Martin. And then there’s Alexis Taylor, who released his debut solo effort in 2008. But it’s Joe Goddard who’s taken the spotlight of late. Not least for Gabriel, a beautifully haunting track whose name regularly cropped up in ‘best of 2011’ singles lists.

He and Greco-Roman Soundsystem pal, the London DJ Raf Rundell, have been The 2 Bears for a few years now, sowing the seeds of their brand of encostumed, furry romanticisms through dance music. So, on the tide of Be Strong’s release, it’s almost surprising to find the album peddles more than just a loveable, slightly gimmicky brand of beats.

Many of the deviations from type found hereabouts are glorious, like the unexpectedly dark Faith – a stark comedown from the rest of the album with spitting cockney pearls of wisdom on the limited ability of pills to cure problems. Its deep and brooding bassline and glitchy electronica is one of the highlights, but on other occasions when the album’s armoury of playful joviality is removed, success becomes more erratic.

A handful of the tracks are already familiar – many of these remaining the best of the collection. Be Strong’s funky house hook is a welcome inclusion, with its talk of the exquisite agony that entrapment by music can produce. Nor are the fuzzy feelings lost for Bear Hug, where The 2 Bears reveal their Jekyll and Hyde sides of musical creativity – one guided by a desire for dancefloor stormers, the other by a penchant for Hot Chip-style platonic love-ins.

The inclusion of Church is a wise choice, as it’s still arguably the best thing they’ve done to date. Balancing lump-in-the-throat inducing lyrics with Rio carnival beats, twinkling keyboards and cascading steel drums, the track builds to a Primal Scream Come Together-style gospel crescendo, which would thaw the edges of even the coldest of hearts.

Other moments encourage floating away on musical clouds: the blissed-out beats mixing with woody xylophone notes and trumpets on The Birds And The Bees; the woozy, slow pulse of Warm And Easy; and Time In Mind’s dancehall rhythm which adopts a kind of hillbilly bluegrass in its melody and lyrical content.

Elsewhere, much of the album is dedicated to uptempos from recent decades gone by. A ’90s piano loop majors on current single, Work, which cheerfully accepts that making a living is simply a part of growing up. But for all of its comparability to a Hot Chip track, it would struggle to stand out on one of their albums. Take A Look Around and Ghosts And Zombies also suffer from wavering levels of success, but it’s Get Together where the formula works, thanks to a stripped back rhythm that’s set alight by playful layering.

The 2 Bears possess charm aplenty in their music making, and with its sheer love of light comic touches, Be Strong is certainly not short on that. It’s perhaps a guilty pleasure of sorts from two blokes whose craft looks at clubbing and dance music both through current and nostalgic eyes, which benefits them immensely. But at its core, Be Strong is a call to arms for listeners to get lost in music, irrespective of age, genre preference or life priorities, which really is a rather irresistible premise.

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The 2 Bears – Be Strong