Bands come in all shapes and sizes. There are big bands, small bands, brass bands, metal bands, bands whose members met in high school and bands whose members met on TV. And then there’s Bear Colony, a self-referential “patchwork artistic collective” hailing from Little Rock, Arkansas. This band by any other name, which features a rotating membership of anywhere from 6 to 12 people with 5 of them permanent, has just released their second album, Soft Eyes.
With the impassioned yet defeated vocals, the cryptic and delicate lyrics, and instrumentals that strike the perfect balance of electric and acoustic influences to ebb and flow as the sentiments require, Soft Eyes has all the trappings of a genuine, early-2000s indie record. Despite this, however, Bear Colony manages to put a little spin on it all, with intricate layering that makes the “collective” nature of the band’s project evident, and the odd burst of electronic synth — either within full-length tracks or as standalone interludes. The result is a sort of new-age Death Cab for Cutie that operates well under the band’s self-labelled genre of ambient.
Generally speaking, it’s quite a nice effect. The layers of each song make them remarkably full and robust — they wrap you up like a blanket, one right after, knit together to create the kind of record that would be able to float you on your back or cradle you to sleep if you’d just let it. At the same time, though, you kind of expect something more from a band that calls itself an artistic collective. Maybe it’s just a technicality, but a label like that seems to imply a certain level of astounding creativity or innovation that Soft Eyes, with its inevitable associations to acts that have come before it, doesn’t yet seem to reach. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really, truly enjoyable and beautiful album; comforting and soothing and safe. Whether that’s enough, however, is up to each individual listener to decide.