After an opening salvo of fuzzy surf-pop guitar, “Big Love” offers a heartbroken homily: “When you ran, how broke my heart in into, a thousand, a thousand pieces”. The next track “Enemy” sketches a similarly grand scene: “It was the coldest winter we’d known, all the lakes and the rivers froze”. Both lyrics, sung in the same slightly shambolic register, a woozy, naïve voice full of yearning and unrestrained glee, are unlikely to have been inspired by the overcast Leeds that the band hail from. Instead, it soon becomes obvious that Bear Driver’s heart and imagination belongs across the Atlantic; staring out into the Pacific or studying the Canadian tundra.
The alt-pop shamble of “Big Love” owes a debt to the heart-on-sleeve sentiment and sonic influences of bands like Best Coast, while the anthemic grandeur of “Enemy” brings to mind Arcade Fire in their less baroque moments. In the hands of most UK bands that sense of scale and raw sentiment would scan as pompous, traitorous somehow; Britain is a small island of small feelings, after all, but when the aforementioned “Big Love” climaxes with the lyric “it’s big, big love, it’s big, big love” before a scuzzy guitar freakout, the band seem uniquely unbothered by any such considerations.
As the group freely displays their emotions, they also show off their influences in a similarly obvious, sometimes clumsy, way. In recent interviews they’ve professed a fondness for My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo that shows in the gauzy, ambling tone of the album. Meanwhile recent tours supporting Real Estate and Bombay Bicycle Club make themselves respectively apparent on “Never Never”, a track that’s all jangly guitar and sharp reverb, and “No Time to Speak”, a sweet, milk-fed indie pop track readymade for a Hollyoaks intro scene.
As much as these qualities make Bear Driver feel literate and transatlantic, they also give a vague listless quality to their music. When borrowing reference points from other bands you never want to sound like a second-rate copy, but it’s a trap Bear Driver often fall into. That you can readily encapsulate a lot of the songs on the album with the band it sounds most like sums up the anonymous, wearily quality of the album. As it is, Bear Driver’s self-titled debut album is a rather typical debut of the kind by a band weighed by the anxiety of influence while still trying to find their voice. On the album closer “A Thousand Samurais” they sing “my love is in a distant land /home of the giants”. On album number two they’ll have to try and make that place a little more distant.
Release: 16th June 2012, Adventure Club Records