It's the last Saturday of 2007, hence the last Bear Quartet post I'll do until their next album comes out. I asked Mattias Alkberg if he would contribute something this week, but he politely declined noting that it's a bit awkward to write about his own band like that, though quite flattering. Can't argue with that, so instead I've roped in Jim Kelly from Parasol once again. His pick: "Grammar" from 2003's "Angry brigade". He writes:
"Angry brigade" was The Bear Quartet's last true guitar-bass-n-drums rock/pop record, albeit sprinkled with inklings of the electro-tempest spawned on successive albums. Hot on the heels of the album's two singles, "Axe me don't ask me" and "All my life", the swaggering, cocksure, Clash-inspired "Grammar" is "Angry brigade"'s centerpiece, a bridge between the batch of luminous proto-popsongs in one hand and the sampledelic electro-punk squirming in the other. "Grammar" was a big tough rock song with big tough guitars, a song about righteous school-age badassess planning an assault on the neighborhood pedophile. But while the narrator and pals miss their chance, they hope that Hell awaits this person in some form. With sentiments like this, and mortality a common motif, "Angry brigade" ended up being the band's fiercest and most tightly-wound record since "Moby Dick", incorporating both the band's sublime pop sophistication and madcap punk/noise roots.
Download below, as always. As for next year's special Saturday post focus - wait and see!
The Bear Quartet - Grammar
It might not always be readily apparent, but The Bear Quartet are punk. It's not so obvious because they're smart enough to eschew the uniform, both in sound and dress. It's all about attitude and, on this particular song, that's obvious from just the title. It's total, all-out refusal. "I detest everything they've blessed / I abhor everything they stand for." Caught up the same system, but definitely not with the same goals. But who's in charge and running the show? Unfortunately, it's almost never the underclass with whom BQ are aligned. "They seek profit, they think global / but see poverty as a personal failure and shame." To which they respond, "so call me killjoy / but there's a certain happiness and success / I'd like to destroy." It's not kill yr idols, more like topple the ivory tower. Fight cynicism, do the right thing? The ethical thing? Not stated, but implied. With a wah-wah soundtrack? Sure, why not?
The Bear Quartet - I'm not in here with you (you're in here with me)
Musically, this one's definitely a b-side. Reminiscent of plenty of other fine Bear Quartet tunes, but unfocused; too many notes left hanging. Lyrically though, "Roads home" is something different. It's the oft-visited theme of resignation and loss, but with a tinge of defiance.
All my friends / all those rapid losing ends can't show me
how I should be wearing my coat / against the cold
where good intentions croak
I walk a road and it's called home
To me, that says "I'm taking my ball and going home." A conscious choice, not ostracization. "And the part of me
that's about to die / would never tell you a cruel lie." Better to suck it up, eh? It's only after the second chorus that the music rises up and offers payoff. A solo, trading bars with a weird, out of place synth smudge, performed with Jari's deft feel and a patient touch. A short, but sweet coda to a difficult song.
The Bear Quartet - Roads home
The lyrics of this track are straight out of the Big Black playbook. To slip into the persona of someone disreputable, not necessarily looking for sympathy, rather taking it as matter-of-fact. A glimpse into their life, for better or worse. For an early Bear Quartet track, it's surprisingly discordant as well. Nothing quite Albini-esque, but there is a definitely level of unease in the melody, especially in the way that the first half of each line in the chorus is left hanging. It's a sophisticated arrangement actually and quite a bit different from their other material of that time, hence the EP b-side treatment. I bet if they had put a bit more punch into the performance, it might even sound like Chavez. As is, it's not hard to imagine how it could be transformed as such in a live setting. So many tiny buildups and (potentially) soaring guitar lines! Typically I am anti the slacker approach, but it kinda works here. At least it gives it a touch of their own, despite my various attempts at artist comparison.
The Bear Quartet - Hot meal
We're supposed to get our first snow here today. It doesn't snow much here, but I'm happy to get anything. Really, anything will be better than the endless cold, dark and dreary rainy days that are the norm for the Pacific Northwest. As the song says, "hey blizzard light up the sky, light up the ground" - that's what I want to happen. I want it to blanket my world with a luxurious shine.
In The Bear Quartet's world, the blizzard is far more cathartic. Matti calls to be buried completely, to disappear in the snow's cold embrace. The song is a slow walk into bleakness, not exactly the mood I'm after, but still, quite beautiful. Like the snow itself, there's danger lurking within said beauty. Don't get too comfortable.
Note for completists: this is the later version from the "I don't wanna" EP, not the original from "Cosy den".
The Bear Quartet - Blizzard
"Ghosts for laundry" is quick little pop nugget off of 1995's "Holy holy" album. This is Bear Quartet in their classic indierock guise: you get a bit of tape manipulation at the end of the track, but the song itself is straightforward guitar-rock, very fitting for the time period and complete with slightly off-key vocals. Even the lyrics aren't too obtuse or depressing - who hasn't sat up late at night doing laundry alone, wondering about ghosts or other supernatural creatures? This is especially true for doing laundry at some deserted 24hr laundromat, as it's even more strange and isolating, all the better for the imagination to run wild. Who knows if any of the characters that you actually do run into there are living or dead? Sometimes it's hard to tell.
The Bear Quartet - Ghosts for laundry
"Needs vs. facts", doing what you have to as opposed to doing what you want. "To make my live liveable, understandable / more than a waste of time." We all have to work and earn a living so we can pay bills, the goal is to find work with meaning. Something that transcends the drudgery. Or maybe we settle for something that enables us to do what we want with the remainder of our time. As long as we have some sort of ultimate purpose, right? Now when it comes to love, that's far more difficult and elusive. "He woke up again though he actually swore / he'd wake up with someone or not anymore." That's a level of intense desperation that I can't quite relate to. Lonliness is much harder to conquer and being with someone who's good "enough" is not nearly the same as working a shit job so you can, say, bail and go on tour for a few months. The job might drive you crazy eventually, but it's the means to an end, not the end itself. Love is way more complicated and convoluted. I don't think you can merely settle.
The Bear Quartet - Needs vs. facts
"From nowhere", another intro track, this time from 2001's "Gay icon". However, unlike other songs of such stature, this is much less of an overture. "From nowhere" is about starting out from scratch, heading off into the unknown. Not an unusual theme for The Bear Quartet, though not often handled as a soft piano ballad. Maybe not exactly what you might call uncharted territories, just less frequently visited these days.
The Bear Quartet - From nowhere
"Load it" is a work of glorious melancholy beauty. The chimes and ba-ba-baas of the backing vocals distract, but the depression is unavoidable. "Every day is an empty click / in case my friend you forget to load it" It's a major BQ theme: getting older, feeling more futile. Out of touch and increasingly out of reach. On top of the alienation and hopelessness. Envying the youth and their blissful naivety. It helps if you don't think too hard about the words as you sing along.
The Bear Quartet - Load it
Like "Battle hymn", "I know my owner" is a triumphant opener that sets the stage for what's to come. The piece is two parts; first comes the overture - a grand symphonic declaration with the main theme performed on MIDI guitar. Then the track breaks and the lead gives way to a strummed, full-chord riff that becomes the foundation for part two. The drums become more clattering too, but the symphonic air is held by the keyboards softly soaring in the background. That is, until the vocals come in, screaming undecipherable epithets; then it becomes something else entirely - a warning. I suppose that, in a way, they are building walls to keep out the undesirables and rubberneckers. It's tracks like this that make it impossible to be a casual Bear Quartet fan. Either you love it or you don't, no in-between. If you feel alienated, that's fine. It's not for you. Personally, I appreciate the ugliness and discomfort, the juxtaposition of themes. "I feel so alive that I want to die... say hello, wave goodbye"
The Bear Quartet - I know my owner
"Broken heart" is a tiny little segue piece from "Eternity now", The Bear Quartet's noisiest, most difficult album. Static form the bookends that make the song, a fragile solo piece for piano and vocals. That would be all fine and good except that what was once pretty and nice, has been transformed into something far more uncomfortable, nauseating even. The synth shudders and twists. The vocals are pitched up to an unnatural state and every inhalation scrapes like nails on a chalkboard, sending a shiver down my spine. But, before you know it, it's over and we're off to the next experiment. Distressing, in the best possible way.
The Bear Quartet - Broken heart
The way Mattias Alkberg finishes each line of the verse makes "Walking out" sound like a song of resignation. He drops the pitch like an exasperated sigh while Jari Haapalainen plays the blues. However, the chorus gives a feeling of hope. The steadfast declaration of "I'm walking out" coupled with the airy keyboards gives the song a different atmosphere. It's like music that plays over closing credits to signify an untold new beginning, not closure. Because this is definitely not the end of the story, it's the start of something new, "a life that I have not entered yet."
The Bear Quartet - Walking out
Seeing as how I just posted a new podcast, I figure I might as well keep on draining away my allotted bandwidth as fast as possible. And what better way to do it, than with The Bear Quartet's monster epic "Bear Quartet International Airport". Here's Matt Giordano to give you the lowdown:
This song is fucked up, seriously. Our beloved BQ seemed to have stumbled on the musical equation for a throbbing headache, and such a headache can only be cured with repeated listens. Newcomers to the band might have a hard time appreciating the track, as they may find it a tad grating. The first half of is a nice speed-inspired tempo, whilst the second is gorgeous noise. At 5:20 in the song appears to break down, only to kick your ass once again, just to break down further into a new movement two minutes later. With doomsday-esque bass and vocals that make Slayer look like Hannah Montana, The Bear Quartet have found their innner Vivaldi and brought the musical apocalypse unto the listener.
The Bear Quartet - Bear Quartet International Airport
"I'm still in the grass" is a kiss-off, a jaunty little number that revels in the afterglow of severed ties. It's almost so happy as to be cruel, but I see it more as an overwhelming sense of relief. The weight of the relationship is lifted, but their sick impression still remains, so you gotta go a bit overboard to deepen the distance. Or maybe not - maybe it's just the pure pleasure of telling someone off who completely deserves it. Either way, it's a song to be sung with a full-on shit-eating grin.
The Bear Quartet - I'm still in the grass
Once again, I am blessed with a guest contributor for this week's Bear Quartet post. Not only am I happy to take the day off, but I find that one of the best things about this series is reading other people's thoughts on the mighty BQ. So with that, here's Christoffer Davidsson:
There are a few things truly beautiful in life. It can be moments, places, people and so on. Lately, for me, it's been "I'm still her", one of many great songs on "Angry brigade". Peter Nuottaniemi's lyrics are hopeful, yet dark. Saying it's all going to hell, but that it's all right. I hope.
"There's happiness where and when I least expect
everything that I see will outlive me
there's happiness and of course fear and death
loneliness hard regrets, one fire less
we'll never ride into the sun with the end
hung above our hardships and our love
I didn't cry not until we lowered you
down into the cold ground the cold cold ground"
Jari's guitars are wonderful as always and I think Håkan Hellström would have killed for them, and maybe he will. Although Matt Giordano already covered this song, I think it is worth posting again. That's how good it is.
Agreed. That's a statement that's impossible to deny.
The Bear Quartet - I'm still her