The Bear is the first album recorded with Chris T-T’s consistent live lineup since 2008, The Hoodrats. Having recently seen Chris playing several of the songs solo during his opening set for Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo in London, it’s a revelation to hear those songs performed by a full band.
As a statement of intent, you couldn’t find anything much more forthright than 1994, which opens the proceedings with a squall of feedback before finding a modulating groove topped with piano, power chords and some very sweet harmonies, over which Chris recounts the story of a day in the life in a manner that would shame James Joyce. More prosaically, on his blog, Chris describes the title track and lead single The Bear as being about grasping for inspiration at a moment of lowest ebb.
In contrast to the raw, almost punk rock feel of The Bear, third track A Beaten Drum is a downbeat, downcast and down-at-heel musing on isolation and alienation with a guest appearance by Gill Sandell on flute sealing the mood. Paperback Kama Sutra is similarly reflective, dissecting the failings of relationships before launching into what is quite possibly the most inspired coda you’ll hear this year.
Idris Lung breaks out the electronics in fine style to create a decidedly wonky tune about those moments of clarity you get when you’re in a particularly suggestible frame of mind, and having the whole band (Chris, Benj Murray, Johny Lamb and Jen Macro) sing the lyric collectively is an inspired touch that sets the whole thing off a treat. The Music Is Alive With The Sound Of Ills sounds like a stadium anthem in the making, although Chris’s lyrics dare to take the song to places that would probably give a stadium audience nightmares for months.
Faced with a record full of highlights, it’s often difficult to pick out a single song but, for me, Gulls is this album’s standout by a country mile. It’s one of those rare songs that manages to be both unbearably sad and unutterably beautiful. A heartbreaking and heartbroken lament, an elegy for a loved one taken suddenly and violently by the carelessness of others, if it doesn’t leave you in floods of tears with the hairs on the back of your neck standing up, then I don’t know what I can say to you.
Bury Me With A Scarab, an angular slice of indie rock with a frenetic bass upfront and clouds of feedback in the distance, might almost be a resurrectionary answer to Gulls, although Chris’s declamation of its hook, “I’m not as dead as you thought I’d be”, is as defiant as it is uplifting. Muted trumpets and heavenly choirs adorn the stomping Jesus Christ with a lyric which draws on the Biblical story to suggest some novel reinterpretations of various verses in a manner more suited to the 21st century.
Sombre synths and a buzzing electronic loop accompany the closing Tunguska, a mournful reflection on the aftermath of a personal relationship. Likening a personal disaster to a natural one might, on the surface of it, seem something of an over-reaction; nevertheless it works surprisingly well in the context of this song. And it occurs to me that context is everything on The Bear: you could take it simply as a straightforward album made using idioms of contemporary rock and pop music and play it while you do the washing-up – but if any of your life experiences match those on display here, then it immediately becomes something much more powerful that deserves a wee bit more respect. But no matter how you approach and interpret The Bear it has something to offer: take it at face value or pay it attention, you’ll still find something here that catches your attention. And that, I think, is the mark of a writer and musician who knows his art and his craft; a rare thing in this disposable age where even instant gratification isn’t quick enough. Essential listening.
Review by: Helen Gregory
Gulls (Lyrics Video)
Beaten Drum (Lyric Video)
The Bear is released 7 Oct 2013 via Xtra Mile Recordings
Details of upcoming gigs here: http://christt.com/live/