Beginning with three, before solidifying as a rock-solid duo, The 2 Bears officially began creating music in 2010. And while it doesn’t seem that far away in relativity (this was officially released in late January 2012), for Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard and Raf Rundell, Be Strong marks a carefully-placed album in the running for best electronic music of the entire year. Propulsive, simply-layered, lyrically realistic and engrossing with true, sincere issues of working hard, searching for music and discovery, this album finds a way of capturing both the heart and mind with stellar compositions. Regardless of what the intended collection was set to be, the final product is a rousing success, with a superbly crafted album in Be Strong.
We should duly note that Goddard’s main (side?) act was working on their own tremendously great 2012 album: In Our Heads. While it’s a small detail, it remarks on the act of quantity often equaling into quality. And even though they revel in the same genre of music, the albums are entirely dissimilar beyond comparison. The focus on staying active makes the melodies and culminations on Be Strong flash with impressive strength. On the title track, the singers’ vocals intertwine into a beat-strong, enveloping strategy that makes the dance-floor paced synthesizers work hand-in-hand with the pounding drums. You feel partly ready to shake into a fit of glory and the music allows for fantastic moments of dancing-inducing craziness. Perhaps, this is the POP everyone is trying to find.
In much more direct and less dramatic terms, Be Strong is a diverse, sweetly-layered piece of art that presents soaring electronic in fine style. The style often changes from song to song, with a lot of thumping romps (“Bear Hug,” “Ghosts & Zombies”) and relaxing, almost calming chugs (“Time in Mind,” “Warm & Easy”) mixed in between and bookended with excellent choices. The album is well-thought out and still finds a way to appeal to hopefully both the mainstream and indie crowds alike. Even the duo’s lyrics, while honestly direct, maintain a playful evocative at moments; it shines on one of the singles, “Work,” with thoughts of trying to strive through our mundane lives. The song is both vivid with scaling synths and thriving beats and the melodies combine for a fusion of lush beauty.
All of this concentration on a few individual songs makes others, like the mostly developing opener “The Birds & the Bees,” stand out because of the tandem’s sheer chemistry. Continuously adding instrument after instrument, each new color is a welcoming charm. And although “Church” surely begins rather proper (spoken word) inside of a vessel filled with organ overtones, it gets entirely blissful a minute in and rides the soaring waves into a magnificent blend of towering instrumentation. They’ve eased the audience, all of us, into this six-minute overture with the way Be Strong rides a strong current of house and techno-driven electronic music. Each song resonates a stirring combination of melodies and harmonies, while the beats are relentlessly ready for the floor. The steel drums, the thumping drums, the keyboards and suddenly, the chanting “hey now, lets get up together” – modified between a third and sixth in round structure – are beautifully composed as one collective circle of music. This wholeness, this richness, this magnitude is exponentially relished on the closing “Church” – it absolutely makes the album that much more substantially gripping all around.
It just seems that much more refreshing when musicians actually want to create art so much, that they must find new ways outside of their original claim to spread the good word. It celebrates the embracing nature of music and its utter desire. But again, without getting too ahead of ourselves, and objectively speaking, the highs reached on Be Strong are rather remarkable. The dozen songs on here make for a brilliant affair of subtly great electronic music that blends a fresh brand of styles into one compelling presentation. It’s a strong showing for a debut, without doubt, and The 2 Bears sound poised for even stronger sets in the future.
Southern Fried Records / Mercury