by M. Lewis Barker
Writer’s note: This is the first record I’ve reviewed in 7 years so it may not be particularly thorough.
Bearcats are an indie rock band. They play catchy pop music with distorted guitars. Since they are already playing my style of music, one of two things will happen: I am going to be extra positive because they do a good job of it, or I’m going to extra negative because they’ve disgraced the genre. Don’t worry, friends of Bearcats, it’s the former.
This Wildfire Magic doesn’t break a lot of new ground, but it is still a very well done 6-song record. The production values and mixing are clean which can be a big struggle for small bands. A lot of time and patience went into recording. (Although I’m sure local producer Travis White’s magically sensitive ears would find problems with the production.) Each song has distinct melodies, but Bearcats never strays too far from a specific style. I would not be surprised to hear any of these songs playing in a television show soundtrack, thanks to both the production value and the high quality of the songs themselves.
And oh, my friends, these are well written songs. But they’re not the sort of songs you would want to hear one guy with an acoustic guitar play at an open mic show. They work thanks to the instrumental arrangement. It doesn’t ever stray from guitar/guitar/bass/drums, but each has its place and the sound never feels cluttered. They remind me of the New Pornographers, Apples in Stereo, and especially American Analog Set. Bearcats doesn’t sound exactly like any indie band, but they are most assuredly the same genre.
The EP is upbeat. It’s neither angry nor sad. It feels complacent, as if the band were happy with the songs they wrote. There’s not a lot of energy in the vocal performance. I wouldn’t call it tired or lazy at all, but it is very poppy and produced, lacking that human element that carries the weight of the words. They are another instrument, kept in tune and adding a layer to the music. The guitars are all distorted, but not too distorted. The drums keep such a solid yet light rhythm that I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that they used a drum machine.
The fuzzed guitar and multi-layered vocals unify the album, but perhaps a bit too much. There is not a great deal of variation throughout the record. The transition from “Mineshaft” to “On/Off” might make you initially think you’ve put “Mineshaft” on repeat. But for the most part it works, and This Wildfire Magic isn’t long enough for it to really matter. Plus the inclusion of the slower “This Will” helps to break any monotony and `really adds a lot to the end of the record. The EP would benefit by having something softer in the middle, but “This Will” works best as the epilogue.
I would listen to this album in my free time. That’s the best compliment I can give it. It doesn’t move me, emotionally, but it’s good. I’m excited to see Bearcats when they next play in Provo.
You can purchase the record at http://bearcats.bandcamp.com/ for only $5. I suggest that you like classic indie rock.