February 21, 2013

Bear tracks

Typical hibernation lasts four or five months. Bear Colony has been in a nuclear winter.

Originally a 2006 collaboration between Arkansas musicians Brooks Tipton (Unwed Sailor, Colour Revolt) and Vincent Griffin, Bear Colony gradually opened its borders to a host of talented vagabonds. Indie veterans Chase Pagan, Matthew Depper, and Matthew Putman returned home and helped Griffin lay the foundation for 2007’s We Came Here to Die — a debut which, though certainly respectable, felt like a disorganized expedition in the wilderness.

Personal travails (Griffin’s mother suffered a severe health setback in 2009) and the influx of migrants David Huff, Stephen Tucker, Lee Actkinson, and Patrick Ryan caused Griffin to recalibrate his compass. He blazes a blistering trail with the band’s second excursion, planting a flag that cements Bear Colony as Esperanza Plantation‘s most alluring settlement.

Soft Eyes is both easy and enthralling on the ears, a burgeoning melodic metropolis populated by diverse influences neither foreign nor feigned. Its landmark attraction, “Bad Blood,” glistens with harmonies befitting Brian Wilson and climaxes in an exultant, Pixies-style chorus, completing Bear Colony’s de facto Sistine Chapel. Griffin promptly diverges from that blueprint, but keeps the base stanchions intact.

An electronically layered pyramid pulsates throughout “Flask Retort,” wreaking of the best of ELO while retaining modern flair. The group adapts similar designs to “Lights On The Domestic,” “The Hysterics” and “Break Bones,” three modestly built lo-fi lofts contoured for balance against the album’s more imposing edifices. Two of those towers – “Monster” and “Go Home To Something” – are soldered to contemporary girders often found on Ben Gibbard structures and still blend in seamlessly with the rest of the horizon.

“We Don’t Know Harm I” and “We Don’t Know Harm II” bookend the 13-track borough, opposite windows of one facade reflecting vistas of Jeremy Enigk’s Fire Theft. “Youth Orchestra” is fashioned in the same mold, binded by malleable materials that congeal into a symphonic citadel. Instrumental skyscraper “I Sing Mountains” dwarfs the entire landscape, legitimizing Griffin’s aptitude for complex engineering.

Awake from its lengthy slumber, Bear Colony has staked out wonderfully ambitious terrain. Soft Eyes will bring huddled masses flocking in droves.