Bear’s Den makes their affinity for vintage ‘80s atmospheric pop all the more obvious on this sophomore set Red Earth & Pouring Rain, an able follow-up to their 2014 debut Islands, an album that established their indie ethos and found them in demand at various high profile festivals in their native U.K. and abroad. If the ‘80s are due a nostalgic revival, then suffice it to say that Bear’s Den will be on the front lines. And while there are those who tend to shrug off that era and its synthesized set-ups (think Depeche Mode, Yaz, Echo and the Bunnymen and the like), Bear’s Den manages to make it sound surprisingly in sync with today’s DIY directives.
Now pared down to a duo with assorted hired guns, Bear’s Den makes the most of its resources. Singer Andrew Davie emotes with the eloquent bluster of an Ian McCulloch or a Simon LeBon, crooning heartfelt angst with only the mildest reserve. Meanwhile, erstwhile multi-instrumentalist Kev Jones plays the role of technicolor arranger, painting lush soundscapes with a virtual wash of synthesized set-ups. It’s an impressive combination, one that relies on stylized set-ups. The overall effect brings to mind Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away,” a song that once epitomized the fusion of pop proficiency with larger than life surroundings. Songs such as “Broken Parade,” “Greenwoods Bethlehem” and the title track are genuinely affecting, with their cushion of keyboards or without.
If Bear’s Den’s flair of the dramatic sometimes seems a bit over the top, the band’s adventurous attitude provides adequate compensation. After all, in today’s pop culture, ambition counts for quite a bit. Yes, they tend to sound a bit pompous, and on occasion, even a bit pretentious, but the big, stirring sound does make an emphatic impression. The ‘80s may have been an era of big hair, posing and pretense, but in retrospect, Bears Den oesn’t make it seem nearly so bad.