Album Review: The 2 Bears – Be Strong

[DFA; 2012]

Attempting to keep up with the number of Hot Chip side projects there have been this past year has been no small task. From Al Doyle’s take over of LCD Soundsystem’s farewell shows to Joe Goddard’s ascension to disco-pop stardom both on Be Strong and his solo EP, the timeline has been filled with plenty of newsworthy moments. The 2 Bears deserve attention on their own merit though, as the debut album from this British duo is silly and fun, and I mean that in the most flattering sense.

The most consistent and rewarding theme on Be Strong is Goddard and partner Raf Rundell’s insistence on happiness. From the album’s artwork, which is monogrammed with “Love is Lovely / War is Ugly” to the album’s deluxe packaging which features a shirt with a large heart and the phrase “Be Strong” plastered on top of it, these two artists put an emphasis on something that has been missing in music for quite some time. Obviously there are songs written about happiness and love almost daily, but the way in which The 2 Bears approach the topic is relaxing and truly fun. The album’s title track communicates that “The 2 Bears would like to give lots of musical love to all nice and decent people.” It’s a celebration of enjoyment and humility in a genre that’s overrun with hyper-masculine identities and boring, repetitive tropes. And as the deep, pitch-deformed voice yells “peace” at the end of this interjection, it’s a revealing and intimate moment rarely achieved in modern music. The way in which The 2 Bears pull back the curtain on their music is unique and ultimately engrossing in terms of accessibility to the album, it makes the listener feel important and valuable in terms of what the band is trying to accomplish.

“Bear Hug” might be the definition of this message though, as the bubbly and fun track encompasses everything both the band and myself have described. And yes, it’s cheesy, but when the dark voice proclaims “we brought you all a gift for maximum dance floor uplift, it’s called the bear hug,” there’s a certain sense of relaxation that takes over. And the band has talked about this in their interviews leading up to the album as well, about how dance music and the clubs used to be a small group of people who all got along and just how incredible that experience can be. Today that scene is diluted and over populated, but the way in which Be Strong is postured, it revives a bit of that warm feeling. As the first single from the album “Work” transitions perfectly to the next track on the album “Warm and Easy,” and that voice shouts out “yeah we’re rolling, another two bit jam right here,” it once again breaks that fourth dimension between the listener and the musician. It feels like you’re at a club and the DJ is mixing tracks together and shouting out to the crowd to just have a good time and not take everything so seriously. I keep coming back to the word “fun” to describe this album, but that’s exactly what it is.

Be Strong isn’t without flaw though, as the album starts to run a bit long at points despite some rather strong singles. “Increase Your Faith” is a strange sort of trip-hop homage that doesn’t do much to push the album forward, and really it just sticks out poorly towards the end of the record. Be Strong is a rather exhaustive album when consumed in one sitting, but if you’ve got the fortitude to reach the closing track “The Church” during that listen, it can be a very euphoric climax. Steel drums and a chorus of vocalists chant “hey now, hey now, let’s get up together,” and with a faint whisper of laughter in the distance, it’s the perfect ending to an album that’s centered around community and friendliness. I’m interested in the potential and the future of The 2 Bears, but if Be Strong is all these two busy men ever put out, it’s a damn fine accomplishment.