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Album Review: Bear Hands – Distraction

2 min read

Nearly a decade after forming, New York-based post-punk band Bear Hands returns with its second full-length Distraction. However, four years is a rather long time between its debut and sophomore efforts, despite a few EPs and singles here and there.

Bear Hands - DistractionAs expected for a band led by singer Dillon Rau (whose classmates included the men who became MGMT), the music on the album teeters between the strange and jubilant radio-friendliness.

Rau’s oddly accented vocals on opener Moments Of Silence recall Sting on Walking on the Moon (is that a Police-shout-out in the line ‘ghost in the machine’?). Despite the track getting weird with lyrics like ‘abandoned my car for rain’ and head-spinning synths trying to send the song into orbit, the track is ultimately a bit repetitive and monotonous.

On bouncy lead single Giants, the rush of the verses with spasm-inducing percussion and 1984-like synths somehow goes well with the comparatively chilled choruses anchored by a groovy guitar riff. Its top ten status on Billboard’s Alternative Songs is therefore well deserved. Second single Agora hesitates with Rau’s falsetto on the verses before strutting cockily like a homecoming king in the choruses. The ‘agora’ backing vocals especially make this a fun, dumb headbanger for a house party.

Other tracks are unsettling. Bone Digger quivers under its synth pulses and manages to make a hook out of ‘the lies, the lies, the bullshit and the lies’. The mid-western, desert-themed ballad Vile Iowa has Rau breathing creepily down listeners’ necks over calming guitar strums and eerie keyboards.

There are punk touches in The Clash-like riffs of Impasse, before Bad Friend oscillates between meandering verses and punchy choruses backed by crunchy guitars. The Bug, the most pop track on the record, is an uplifting, danceable and quirky tribute to Hall & Oates’ Out of Touch. Sleeping On The Floor is a pleasant example of melodic guitar pop-rock reminiscent of the La-Las’ joyous There She Goes. Party Hats starts off middle of the road before its ‘now you know where we come from’ riff drives the track home, making it perfect for the highway. The least successful tracks are the latest single Peacekeeper and Thought Wrong, as they are rather tepid compared to the rest of the album.

The material on Distraction is eccentric yet catchy, and digestible yet hardly generic. As a result, Bear Hands’ music should bridge the gap between the weirdos, freaks and oddities, and those who simply appreciate a good riff or melody.