Grumpy Bear – Songs from the Abattoir

Grumpy Bear
Songs from the Abattoir

A hundred years ago, it’s likely that an album titled “Songs from the Abattoir” would have held most listeners at a distance – in fact, even in current times, the only other album titles to be immediately recalled that make such slaughterhouse references are those by appropriately morbid gore-metal band Aborted and perpetually downtrodden crooner Nick Cave. Grumpy Bear (despite the name) is neither gore-obsessed nor particularly glum, instead choosing to craft upbeat, lo-fi folk-pop that borrows from multiple genres, lending more to an image of maniacal piecings-together in Frankensteinian labs than dismemberings in some dark and dejected abattoir.

Grumpy Bear is comprised of Tyler Black and Lattney B., an Arizonian duo bent on throwing curve-ball after curve-ball to stay one step ahead of expectation. The opening track of Songs from the Abattoir, “Luis Buñuel,” illustrates the band’s more schizophrenic genre-pairings (though it’s a subtle mental illness), beginning with mournful organ chords and plaintive vocals, only to erupt into a rousing acoustic pop-rock riff replete with semi-soaring dual-vocal chorus, oscillating between the two until wrapping up with a nearly grungy down-picked coda. The song exudes wild abandon and joyful experimentation, music making for the sake of music making, a disposition that thoroughly permeates the rest of the album, both in its strongest and weakest moments. Fortunately, Songs from the Abattoir’s weakest moment comes and goes fairly quickly, the synth-heavy “A Conspiracy of Cartographers” being quite energetic but an altogether unsuccessful bid to revive the vocally androgynous new-wave of the 80s.

If the first two tracks of Songs from the Abattoir can be chocked up to the band getting warmed up, they are more than forgivable, as the remainder of the album is much stronger and a much more representative sample of how successful Grumpy Bear’s approach can be when executed properly. One of the stand-out tracks on the album is “O’Sullivan Reacts to a Heartache (Repentantly),” a wispy piece of Americana, like a tumbleweed getting blown along, gathering more debris as it’s batted about. The song makes great use of guest trumpeter Mil Blic, and subtle piano-guitar interplay sulks aimlessly in the background, the pacing heart-broken lover. “Our Own Ocean” returns to the genre-mashing, Black and Lattney B. shouting “Do you wanna drown with me?” before one of them bursts into a psyched-out shit solo straight from a 1960s LA garage. “Fritz Lang” presents as several minutes of ambient electro-noise, dappled with odd samples of distant voices and hurried commotion. On such a short offering, (a mere 20 minutes), it seems a bit like dangerously unnecessary filler until it segues nicely into closer “Growing Stronger Everyday,” making an interesting introduction. It is on this last track that Grumpy Bear’s members truly come into their own, belting out a charming blend of horns, banjo-twang, and wordless vocal frolics over a piano-dripped twee-folk framework.

Songs from the Abattoir aren’t the best songs I’ve ever heard, but they aren’t bad either. In a time where the former charisma of lo-fi recording has come to sound trite, Grumpy Bear manages to retain a lot of the original charm of the do-it-yourself movement, a deservesdacknowledgment for trying it in a variety of genre settings. The songs on this short album aren’t destined for commercial greatness, or even to go down as minor Americana classics, but I don’t think that Grumpy Bear really minds. They embody the true spirit of music, a spirit that is all but lost in the fast, pop-culture world outside their humble Arizona origins. On that account, everyone should at least give Songs from the Abattoir a try, if only to serve as a reminder of the lightness and life that exists in music that is true to itself.