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CD Reviews | Style & Culture

CD Review: Bear Mountain, “XO”

Despite obscurity, debut EP one of year’s strongest releases

Albums like U2’s “Pop” and The Coral’s “Butterfly House” seem to transcend time because, based on sound, they could have been put out 10 years before or after their actual release.

Bear Mountain’s “XO” transcends time because our timeframe for reviewing albums is usually within a couple weeks of their release at the most and “XO” came out in August, but it managed to snag some pagetime today.

It’s completely fair if the EP slipped under your radar: Their Facebook page has a shade over 2,000 likes, and they’re not signed to a record label. Searching for them on Wikipedia brings up a list of state parks, resorts and actual mountains.

I only managed to come across the group when researching a column I wrote about seldom-heard October albums a few weeks ago. But sometimes you get hit by something great when you least expect it. I was not anticipating something this fantastic while cramming to write a last-minute article about songs I’ve never heard of.

Despite hailing from the great white north that is Canada, their debut set of tunes is warm and engaging. Opening track “Two Step” is a perfect party starter, starting with light percussion and dialogue from an old movie between a man and woman about how she “should be kissed and often.” Deep but sunny synths break into digitally clipped vocal “oh-ay-ohs.” Some dubsteppy wubs find their way into the mix, but they come off as genuine — not like some small fish conforming to fit into a big pond.

Bear Mountain does anything but fit in. There is an energy in their music that falls somewhere between that provided by pop and rock, though it’s delivered by electronic means. The easiest label to slap on them is indie pop, but there are times when they are more like the spacey-progressive rock of Angels & Airwaves — see “Survive (Germany, Germany)” — and others when they come off as a more urgent, modern Bee Gees, like in “See You Through.”

It could almost be said that the tracks on “XO” are a modern version of the creative explosion undertaken by ’70s art rock groups like ELO and their contemporaries. That’s not to say Bear Mountain sounds like any of them, because they’re unmistakably modern — but that’s the point.

These pioneering groups took the sounds of their peers and introduced new ones, carving their own niche into popular genres, exploring multiple styles and finding a little cave in them to start a fire and take shelter for the night before moving on to another adventure the next morning. Similarly, Bear Mountain sometimes sounds like Cut Copy, Phoenix or one of the other aforementioned groups they’ve been compared to, but the sound is always through a filter they invented.

I’ve written this before in this paper, possibly about Cut Copy, but Bear Mountain is bringing something new to the now-gigantic electro-indie-pop table, a genre that is so hard to stay fresh in because of the volume of acts taking a stab at it.

With a laptop and Ableton Live, or some other composition software, anybody can make professional-sounding music for a relatively small price and then self-release it to the world online. This crowdedness is why talented groups like Bear Mountain might not get their fair shake, which is a real drag if it’s painfully obvious how deserving they are of our time.

So this review may be a few months too late, but it’s an attempt to bring justice to the little engine that could and really, really should. The modern accessibility of the means to produce and distribute music is both a gift and a curse, and there’s probably only one worthwhile venture for every 20 kids haphazardly throwing loops together on GarageBand.

This is one of those ventures. Listen to it. Share it. Listen to it again. Listen for everybody who’s had the dream of making it big. Listen to support a small-time group from Canada. Just listen, because their album is freaking awesome.

Grade: A-