The folk-rock duo venture to some moodier places as they turn their gaze inwards.
Unfortunately, I don’t even have a smidge of synesthesia, and yet even I can see the blueness in every track on the fourth studio album from Bear’s Den. Blue Hours creates its own cerebral landscape; a headspace, seedy location or time of night in which a person looks inward. The band have described it as being “somewhere between a hotel, a mental health hospital, a bar that stays open later than anywhere else, a paradise, a dream, a nightmare and an endless sea of corridors and staircases leading you to rooms that represent memories – good, bad, happy or difficult”.
In this abstract space, Andrew Davie and Kevin Jones struggle with abstract demons. Mental health is a major focus of the album, with some tracks narrated by the friends or loved ones of a struggling person and some by the struggling person themselves. ‘Shadows’, an electric-meets-orchestral ballad about reaching out to someone slipping under, tackles depression. ‘Spiders’, a standout track about the futility of attempting to outrun negative thoughts, touches on anxiety. In ‘Selective Memories’, Davie explores what happens when your mind fails you in a different way, detailing his mother’s dementia and his own preparations for fatherhood in the wake of it. “I reminded you just yesterday that I had a daughter on the way/And your eyes lit up and for a moment the clouds were lifted,” he sings.
The titular track of the album paints a clearer picture of what it means to be in this ‘blue’ space of self-reflection, and also introduces the listener to a sound not previously heard from Bear’s Den. In the album’s opening track, ‘New Ways’, they stick more or less to their folk-rock roots, before ‘Blue Hours’ begins and we are shifted suddenly into the electronic world of the new record. The folk is still there, but the tracks are now produced around digital soundscapes – fitting for an album that tackles mental health in the digital age. ‘Gratitude’ employs that wall of electronic sound to separate fact from memory and reframe past experiences, whilst ‘Frightened Whispers’, an intricately-woven track that layers digital and acoustic elements, tops off the arrangement with a soaring saxophone.
These joyful arrangements lend a lightness to what is, in subject matter, often a heavy record. But Blue Hours does make space for healing amongst the blueness. ‘Gratitude’ acknowledges loss whilst celebrating the good times, and songs such as ‘Frightened Whispers’ and ‘On Your Side’ remind the listener that all experiences are shared, despite how it may sometimes feel. ‘All That You Are’, the album’s lead single, is a gloriously hopeful track that blends folk, orchestral and electric sounds for a cathartic parting-of-the-ways anthem. “I hope you find someone that loves you for all that you are/I hope I find someone that loves me for all that I am,” declares Davie. Blue Hours doesn’t skulk in the darkness of it all, but it also doesn’t linger too long in the light. Instead, it positions itself somewhere nicely navy.
Blue is out on 13 May. Tickets are available here for Bear’s Den’s upcoming UK dates, playing dates around the country from 17 May.