Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Album: Gold-Bears - Are You Falling In Love

Are You Falling In Love? (Gold-Bears)
Album: Are You Falling In Love?
Slumberland Records
Release Date: May 17, 2011
Rating: ******** (8/10)

It would be nearly impossible for me to overstate my love of Haribo Gold-Bears candy. The floor of my room is littered with empty gummy bear packages and I've been known to hide stashes of the little bear-chens around my room drug-addict style. When friends come from Europe, they come bearing Bears - at least, if they want to sleep on my couch, they do. So admittedly, I am a bit biased in favor of the new Slumberland band by the same name - I mean, if they are the kind of people who appreciate this candy, they're my kind of people. And really, they do have a fair amount in common with the kindercandy - their sound is technicolor and sugary and makes me smile!

Calling Gold-Bears Atlanta's very own Pains of Being Pure at Heart would be lazy and not entirely accurate, but it's hard to ignore the parallels between the bands. Both are adorable indie pop quartets with catchy melodies buried beneath walls of guitar sound. Both are signed to Slumberland Records. Both feature three white guys and an Asian woman. Both are playing at Cake Shop Thursday for the opening night of NYC Popfest 2011.

But there are some key differences. Gold-Bears' melodies are more nuanced than the Pains - still Chock full o' Hooks, but with a scattering of unexpected notes that shift the emotion of whole songs. Their noise is also different from that of the Pains. The Pains' songs are coated in a shoegazy sheen, while Gold-Bears' songs sink into pools of sonic murk. The result is a much darker sounding album, one where the saccharine poptunes seem barely able to keep their heads above water - relentless bleak/black waves threaten to swallow them entirely.

The best example of this sonic struggle for survival is the title track. Warm blankets of guitar muffle the vocals and drums. But these blankets are at once comforting and dangerous - squeals of feedback peel out of the drone. It's as the though the guitar is some half-wild animal loose in a corral - the band isn't making this sound, just containing it. Indeed, they seem to approach the sound like you would an animal you hope one day to tame - gently coaxing it, patiently nurturing it but respecting that it's a long way from being yours.

There are more than a few songs on Are You Falling that would need only minor adjustments to fit snugly under the "pop-punk" label. In their composition, tunes like "Record Store" and "In this City, I'm Invincible" are all youthful energy; the band's sophisticated sound defines the band as indie pop or post punk, but in terms of songwriting, this band could be mistaken for high-end kiddiepunk. Which may sound like a jab, but it's not meant that way at all - it's far from easy to master songwriting with the consistency displayed on Are You Falling and the deceptively simple, bite-sized and easily digestible song structures are what guide us through the album's more abstruse elements.

In addition, Gold-Bears are succinct and even abrupt. While many "twee" bands shy away from anything startling, these kids aren't afraid of quick starts and stops. The music isn't jerky but when the band decides a song has lived its life, they cut it off and jump into the next without stopping for a breath. It's easy to get swept up in this exhilarating pop rush and it's also refreshing to find a band that seems eager not to waste our time.

Although the lyrics can be hard to make out in the aural fog, they seem to hit your usual indie pop subjects. The beautiful anthem "East Station Attendant" is a classic crush-from-a-distance tale, while "Beside You," a story of confused young love, is a bittersweet goodbye letter to childhood. The naive "Xmas Song" confesses secret insecurities and the restrained "Are You Falling In Love?" is a modern love story, equal parts regret and hope.

From the triumphant (and excellently named) "Totally Called It" to the pleading "Yeah, Tonight," Are You Falling is a heartfelt record of youth trying to make sense of beauty and pain. It's executed with rare talent and rare passion. Sure, it's not the most original album in history and may be a bit sappy for some, but as an exercise in indie pop, it succeeds beautifully. Indeed, it is one of the most accomplished albums in its genre in recent years and it will stay with you long after its (startling) end.

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