The third full-length by Cleveland indie-pop duo Bears opens up their sound a bit and results in their finest release to date. Charlie McArthur and Craig Ramsey play enough instruments to fill an orchestra pit, knitting together elegant arrangements reminiscent of Belle & Sebastian, the Zombies and the Left Banke. (Live, they add four more members [including AP art associate Shannon Sullivan —full disclosure ed.] to fill out the sound.) But on Greater Lakes, they incorporate several more pop idioms into their repertoire, including early ‘60s pop, the Beach Boys, moody ‘70s piano rock and new-wave synth-pop. The album unfolds like a romance novel with a variety of intriguing plot twists.
The most exciting of these is “More Left Out.” A banjo propels the bright, bubbly melody, as McArthur pauses to consider why he doesn’t feel lonelier while always going his own way. This homey, front-porch reflection grows a string section midway through, giving it the warm buoyant sway of a Los Campesinos! tune. “I sincerely don’t give a shit about what anyone else has to say,” he sings. “For what’s considered normal, that’s usually the case.”
It’s hardly the only showstopper, though. “You’re Going” is a heartsick parting song set to a Please Please Me-era Beatles melody, peals of Farfisa and crisp, pressed backing harmonies ahh-ing their way throughout. It’s so infectious, you’ll want get your own bowl cut and dark grey suit. The album-closing “Until The Very End” is another keen retro rip, fashioning a near-perfect Beach Boys take with sunny, harmony-filled innocence.
On the other end of the spectrum is “From Good To Bad,” with jangly guitars and darkwave synths that would have fit easily on either of the Rosebuds’ last two albums. “Don’t Wait” is another keyboard-centric piece with the dramatic presence of moody soft rock such as Bread. Far from cheesy, it comes off gracefully, with striking a capella vocals. Bears’ nostalgic predilections are bridged on “I Don’t Have You On My Mind,” which opens like a tune by ’60s folk-rockers the Turtles before being swallowed in sumptuous ‘70s production.
Each song on Greater Lakes has its own life, and each is beautiful in its own way. As a whole, it’s a terrific effort that withstands repeated listens thanks to the craftsmanship of the songs, as well as the mix of tempos and styles.