TRACK REVIEW: Hunting Bears- Sweet Anthony



Hunting Bears




Sweet Anthony





Sweet Anthony is available at:

December, 2015



Leeds, U.K.


WITH the raft of Hard-Rock bands that fill my…

daily playlists- I am a guy who likes his bands to be a bit heavy- I am always pleased to review new music- bands that differ from my usual rotation.  In my day-to-day I tend to immerse myself in a range of music- with Rock and Alternative being at the heart- and love to dip into a spectrum of sounds and genres.  When it comes to new music, perhaps the assortment of music is not as varied as you’d always hope.  It is true, there are some fantastic artists fusing genres and crossing boundaries:  Musicians that are rallying against predictable and obvious to provide the public with something genuinely innovative.  My featured artists are a Baroque-Pop band that has opened my eyes to a whole new possibility in music.  Before I come to them, it is worth talking about that genre:  Moving onto investigating consistency and evolution among musicians- concluding with a bit about embracing music that is outside our comfort zone.  Leeds has once more produced another wonderful act- a catchphrase of sorts for these pages- and I never cease to be amazed at the breadth and quality of the musicians that play here.  I shall not wax lyrical (once more) on this subject but it is great to see the city so fervent:  Where else in the U.K. do you get such a range and consistency of music?  Maybe London is boasting the same variety and ingenuity:  Leeds is a constant hotspot that many should look to if they seek something special and fresh.  Bereft of sameness and fatigue:  I can see 2016 showcasing a whole wave of phenomenal Leeds-based musicians.  Pop music is a style and genre that has enormous possibility yet seems to have few true pioneers.  In the mainstream, we still hear too many power ballad-producing artists (normally female) that are aiming at a very specific audience.  It is essential to have a few examples of this type of music- to provide inspiration to young women- but there is a suffocation and over-reliance on rather bland and unoriginal motifs.  The most standout artists- in my view anyway- are those that take that Pop core and mix in other genres.  Whether it is Rock or Electronic ideas; something Folk-based or pastoral:  There are no limits to how far you can stretch Pop to create something sensational.  Baroque-Pop fuses Rock sounds and is commonly played by artists from the U.S. and U.K.  During the 1960s, artists like The Beatles, The Beach Boys and The Rolling Stones brought the style into public prominence.  By the mid-1970s, the popularity (of Baroque-Pop) started to fade due to the rise in Disco and Punk-Rock artists- and the explosion of Punk music for that matter.  With that said, the genre never truly died and gained resurgence during the 1990s.  With acts such as Belle and Sebastian- Regina Spektor and the Divine Comedy displaying immense talent- revitalising the genre:  That has influenced modern artists to keep the torch burning bright.  Designed to be less commercial and more mature- less edgy than Rock- Baroque-Pop incorporates Classical elements and instruments to mix the popularity of Pop with something more cerebral.  Hunting Bears have a little in common with the likes of Regina Spektor and classic acts like The Beach Boys.  Being relatively unfamiliar with Baroque-Pop, it has been great looking into the band and how their sound has developed.  The orchestral Folk-cum-Pop blends of the quintet from Leeds has enthralled and stunned critics and music reviewers.  There are few acts like Hunting Bears which got me thinking about how difficult it is to be consistent in a music scene that sees so much brief fling and beauty.  I have often stuck to a band that seemed promising and amazing upon their first release:  With my heart seduced, said band/act would crumble and feel the pressure of the industry.  It is always sad to see a genuinely promising artist feel the pinch of a jam-packed music climate.  Those artists that can pervade and remain in music are those that deserve a lot of applause and respect.

Day-to-day- speaking with musicians on social media- I hear about their daily woes:  The struggles to get gigs and earn money; the disappointment of underwhelming radio play and patronage.  It is heartbreaking to find great acts so disheartened and despondent.  Passion and purpose go a long way to ensuring musicians survive and prosper.  Away from that, it is the originality of music and the evolutions of music that create footholds.  It is great having an induvial sound- one that has commercial promise but is unexpected too- but you need to keep evolving and provide the listener with new ideas now and then.  Even the legendary acts of old- The Beatles, Led Zeppelin etc. – did not stick to rigid sounds in their music.  From each album, you get new ideas a definite progression.  By the same token, modern-day artists must ensure they keep their music fresh but consistent.  Hunting Bears are looking to create their third E.P. – rumours it will surface this year- but do not doggedly stick to a narrow sound and stretch it across the E.P.s.  Every song has a definite personality and sense of purpose.  While their debut E.P.- 2011’s So Long– was a confident and immediate release; Brother Sister (unveiled in 2014) was a step forward and showed new ideas.  As 2016 is here, the Leeds five-piece will look to keep consistent but ensure their third E.P. has new endeavours and sounds.  Too many music listeners get caught in a ‘comfort zone’ and do not often seek anything that does not conform.  I am sometimes guilty of ensconcing myself within the sounds of ‘90s music and Rock.  I love most genres but do spend an inordinate amount of time coming back to the same artists and sounds.  With bands like Hunting Bears emerging, I have been compelled to broaden my horizons and find like-minded acts.  The recollections Pop past- The Beach Boys’ harmonic, Baroque music for one- sits with of-the-moment Pop and Rock to create something involving and romantic.  The five-piece are not one of these niche bands that will be playing specific festivals.  The guys have a sound that can transcend boundaries and has a universal appeal to it.  All the ingredients we look for are there:  The immediacy and nuance; songs that look at love and relatable figures.  Importantly, the passionate performance and exceptional musicians cannot fail to impress anyone who listens.  I love the E.P.s they have produced already- having gone back and seen what they are about- so am looking forward to finding where they head next.  The Leeds collective has a very popular and marketable sound- the likes of Joanna Newsom showing what can be done (she is more avant-garde but mixes Classic elements together with Folk and Pop) there is no telling just how popular Hunting Bears can become.  Many listeners and music fans are looking for something deeper- that makes them think but ensures it speaks to the heart- and you get that in spades from Hunting Bears.  Let us hope a new E.P. does arrive and the band come and play down south- it would be great to see them arrive in London.

A lot of bands I review tend to have a very small back catalogue- or the song I am reviewing is their first- and that virginal timidity makes it hard to discover how they will mature and develop.  Luckily, Hunting Bears have a couple of wonderful E.P.s under their belt:  I can see how they started out and whether their music has changed at all.  So Long is nearly five years old and is a four-track release that shows immediate conviction and originality.  Mother City is a gentle and immersive song that is awash with gorgeous strings and passion.  The vocal interplay looks at chasing streams to the hills:  An idyllic and riparian scenery unfolds as the percussion adds race and clear movement.  Compiled of live and early-career cuts; So Long is an insight into a tender and young band making their first step.  You get so much atmosphere and live-sounding tangibility in every recording.  Despite the fact, these are early recordings’ it does equate to a lack of development and authority.  The band sound completely formed and tight in every track.  Mother City boasts a range of wonderful vocals and evocative lyrics:  The band create a song that lifts your spirits and makes you imagine what is being sung and unfolding.  Holes In Your New Shoes ends the E.P. is one of the most emotive and reflective tracks across the E.P.  The lyrics see the leads ask the question:  “Who says I’m to blame” for a static surrender?  Creaking stairs and confessions- “I’m the oldest man I know” show a unique lyrical bent and a charming sense of storytelling.  Colours are being turned black and blue- the old man has holes in his new shoes- and the song seems like a fable or nursery rhyme.  Differing across the E.P.- in terms of the production sound and quality- you have an E.P. with plenty to recommend so many different ideas.  The E.P. has a little bit of a two-sided sound- live tracks and early recordings but this does not affect the consistency and overall tone.  If anything, it provides precious insights and revelations from a band that sound stunning from the offset.

   Brother Sister was recorded after a three-year ‘hiatus’- the band working on new songs and performing across the country- and does not lose anything at all.  You might think that gap would see a slight dip in quality- the band unsure of what direction they are taking- but the performances between E.P.s leads to a stronger and more confident E.P.  Julia opens things and is a crisper and more affecting song.  Right from the off, you become entranced by those haunting and ethereal vocals.  Choir-like and beautiful:  The heroine has a knife in her back and is feeling the strains of the world.  Looking at characters and figures- rather than making their songs first-person and love-based- makes the music more interesting and original.  It is here we get more musical ideas and tighter performances.  The band bring more strings and elements together- violin, harp and piano- to fuse Folk, West Coast harmonies and Pop into a rapturous blend of sounds.  The production is sharper and more polished allowing all the elements and notes to radiate through.  Her Velvet Dress is one of the most arresting and stunning songs the band created (to this point).  Pin-sharp vocals present redemptive vocals and the need to defeat the odds and remember a wonderful velvet dress- when things were perhaps a little better.  Tears are being fought and the hero is struggling to look at life’s positives.  Maybe the sweetheart has broken up or moved:  That longing and remembrance is truly affecting and memorable.  You can picture the scenes and there is something classical and old-time about the song.  It seems like a literary chapter and has its heart in a classic text.

The band have developed and improved between E.P.s.  Their debut was confident and showed what they were capable of.  If anything, Brother Sister is a sharper; more layered and nuanced E.P. that fully exploits their shared talents and genre ambitions.  You get more ideas and a crisper sound (compared with So Long) and that shows a natural evolution and step.  This means a third E.P. could take another step forward and bring in yet more sounds and ideas.  Whether we will get a Brother Sister-sounding E.P.- that continues where their last record left off- or a reinvention, I am not sure.  Sweet Anthony suggests there will not be a big departure.  You have a band that has fresh influence but keen to keep their well-formed and unique sound intact.

Sweet Anthony has been claimed to be bolder and more experimental than before- the assessment from the band after a recent interview.  The band stated- in that same interview- with each song/E.P. they bring in new ideas and show a natural shift.  With Sim on keys- a new dynamic change- their latest offering shows fresh insights and moves from a band constantly changing and improving.  I can feel the new-found hero/heroine influences from Joanna Newsome and Sufjan Stevens- artists Hunting Bears have been digging recently.  Bringing the U.S. giant into a British palette- the storytelling and sensibility of the lyrics- shows a fresh story with a new central figure.  Whereas previous characters like Julia– from their E.P., Brother Sister– we have new perspective and incentive.  The opening moments launch straight into a wordless vocal.  Instantaneous and unexpected- the band’s past songs would suggest a building composition- you are taking aback by the vocal force and urgency.  That tone continues and is backed by soulful and atmospheric keys.  Right from the opening notes, you sense new direction from a band that are probably revisiting past Soul masters and U.S. idols.  I know the likes of D’Angelo have been name-checked by the band- one of their new songs has that vibe to it- and I get the impression they have shifted away from The Beach Boys/Bob Dylan avenues- for a few songs anyway- to embrace artists that are perhaps bolder and bracing.  The band has not betrayed their roots for one moment:  Sweet Anthony is an updated version of Hunting Bear’s established sound and is a song that (probably was) cemented after some experimenting and science in the studio.  It seems “Hell this peace we’re chasing” and seems to look at a distant relationship that is causing strain and anxiety.  I know the band’s member find themselves in a long-distant relationship- their new material is more personal and intimate- so Sweet Anthony seems to be the reflection of a very personal and current malaise.  Whether the lyrics were penned by one particular member- or it is a collaborative effort from the group- you know each musician finds relevance and truth in the words.  The song is almost a call-across-the-oceans:  A desperate cry to try and bond too-far-apart hearts.  In past releases- especially Brother Sister– the band have relayed stories from people close to them.

The songs came from heartaches of friends and close ones:  Now, we have something more particular to the band and ‘traditional’ perhaps.  As the song continues, the fight seems to be “our own creation”.  The schoolyard tricks and infantile games have caused a separation and the distance between them.  The lush and harmonic vocals- that sway and intertwine like the rapturous flight of birds in the summer sky- you get confessions and honesty from the heroine.  It seems like her man has been pushed apart but it may not be so one-sided.  Too in love to play politics and be dishonest:  Maybe things- the way they sit right now- are for the best and the only way they can be.  Whatever the reality and circumstance- where the hero may be right now- it is causing a lot of strife and upset.  The band’s stunning and soulful harmonies- the staggering vocals perhaps reveal the best any band has to offer- provide candour, tranquility and strange beauty.  The tetchy and heartbeat drums add Soul edges to the track:  The instrumentation sees traditional Folk ideas mix with something more experimental and mind-altering.  Unlike any previous song- or quite with the same effect- the lyrics and notes are bent and elongated to create something heavenly and transcendent.  With musicians like Joanna Newsom and Dirty Projectors counting as influences:  You get Newsome-esque harmonies (with those wonderful love songs) and something innovative and genre-splicing.  ‘60s Folk and ‘70s New Wave combine in a marriage bed that gives Sweet Anthony huge nuance and repeatability.  Upon the first spin, it is those immense and captivating vocals that hit me.  Later on- when I replayed the song- composition touches and lines of the song find influence in my brain.  The heroine has demons and the Holy Ghost breathes down her neck.  The hero has given a lot and means a lot to our lead.  That need for “mutually-assured forgiveness” comes out and mistakes have been made.  It is rare to see a singer cast blame on themselves and perhaps confess to transgressions and immaturity.  Whether there has been a communications breakdown or some petty argument- the hero may have run away to try and find space- you wonder what provoked the current situation.  My mind being romantic and purist:  I see a love that exists with few arguments but obstacles to overcome.  Perhaps the duo is in communication but find them separated by seas and land rather than ideals and party lines.  The emotions are raw and revelation-spilling:  Whether that openness can lead to reconciliation and togetherness is uncertain.  Before the 3:00 mark- and after the vocals bid to sweet Anthony- you get glitch and quirky guitar sounds that fuse elements of Vampire Weekend and their ilk- to my mind at the very least.  The bond of twiddling and racing strings- going to stick with Vampire Weekend- produce a call-and-response with the violin, that mixes Classic with Indie into something contemporary and traditional.  The band produce one of their most interesting and developed composition that shows them embrace new influence and show fresh confidence.  While the group has mentioned Sufjan Stevens, Talking Heads and The Punch Brothers- when chatting to The State of the Arts– Hunting Bears are no less experimental and impressive.  You got little hints of other acts/genres but all presented in a unique way.  Caught in the breeze and wave of the strings- joined by aching violin towards the latter stages- it is impossible not to fall for the song.   Darker and haunted strings fuse with hissing percussion and starlight guitars:  The resulting excelsior is a potent one indeed!  Not only does the compositional conclusion please the senses:  You get narrative and fill in pieces of the jigsaw.  Whereas most of the lyrics are portrayed within the opening half- and set out the realities and circumstances of the situation- now you get fresh revelation and possibilities.  With final harmonies- that sound graceful and heaven-reaching- the band leaves the listener wondering how things worked out.

Whether Sweet Anthony sees a satisfactory conclusion- the lovers make it to one another or open the lines of communication- it is an engrossing song that shows the band at the peak of form.  They have stated how they are keen to experiment and progress as a band- not stand still and trot out the same songs.  Sweet Anthony is a wonderful glimpse into their upcoming E.P.  A song that is insistent and memorable straight away- they go in harder and more assured than ever- it marks a progression and confidence they have not shown before (not to this extent, anyway).  The composition seems to have brought in new elements- the keys stand out as do the string sections- whilst the entire band interplay shows a terrific bond and affection for one another.  The performances are tight and the intuitiveness borders on telekinetic.  How the song truly began- and whether rehearsal saw it bloom and form- it is clear a lot of work and passion has gone into its creation.  The melodies, vocals and harmonies have surpassed anything Hunting Bears have attempted before- in terms of range and beauty- and the five-piece sound as essential and mesmeric as ever.  Sweet Anthony marks a shift from impersonal narratives- bringing in friends’ experiences to their songs- towards a more personal and self-reflective tone.  While a lot of bands would look at these themes- distant love and the need for a happier bond- with cliché and rather lipid presentation; our band demonstrates a rare talent that shows immense power and beauty.  Congratulations must go the Leeds outfit shows they are one of the most promising and consistent bands working in the U.K. right now.

So Long and Brother Sister showed how confident and unique Hunting Bears are.  The development and consistency between the E.P.s highlighted a band with a lot more years ahead of them.  I am excited to discover a quintet with beautiful and nuanced sound.  Sweet Anthony is their latest offering a tantilising glimpse into what 2016-music could reveal from Hunting Bears.  If you are a fan of the ‘60s masters like The Beach Boys and The Beatles- who took Classic and Folk elements and sprinkled them inside Pop- you will find a lot to love about Hunting Bears.  Whether they go to create their own Pet Sounds or Sgt. Pepper’s in years to come remains to be seen.  What we have right now is a young band with plenty of ambition and ammunition.  They have a great following across social media and are being touted and promoted across a range of media sources.  Interviews and reviews are getting their music out there:  The band’s profile is building and that can only be a good thing!  Of course, it is the music they play that is speaking to those who like their music with depth and emotion.  Ensuring listeners are not divided or exclude:  What you have with the band is an all-encompassing and warm sound that has so much passion and tenderness to be found.  Leeds has once more- hardly surprising to me! – pushed a band forward that puts the city right back in the focus of the music press.  London’s dominance and ruler-ship seem to exist out of convenience and sheer numbers- close to the majority of the nation’s press and with a larger population- but Leeds is not exactly inferior when it comes to quality and diversity.  The mark of a great city is one whose musicians do not trot the same sounds:  They show innovation and the desire to separate themselves aside from the masses.  L.A. and New York boast an enormous amount of possibilities and artists:  Each doing something different; here are cities that are restless and hugely impressive.  London too has that sense of character and work ethic:  Leeds can be mentioned alongside those much-heralded hubs for musical excellence.  Baroque-Pop is a genre (sub-genre) I was only familiar with via my association with bygone acts- The Beatles and those that popularised the genre throughout the ‘60s.  Whilst we saw a slight dip in the 1970s- musicians influenced by this type of music- the 1990s and 2000s saw that slump conquered.  Of course, it would be narrow and foolhardy to mention Hunting Bears alongside The Beatles and The Beach Boys.

Not in terms of quality- the Leeds bands are exceptional- but our five-piece have so much more to them.  Influenced by West Coast melody and Gospel-tinged harmonies:  They fuse ideas and genres into a sound that is very much theirs.  Reminding you of the legends- whilst having a very contemporary relevance- there are so many ideas and layers inside their stunning music.  You find yourself coming back to the songs and finding things you missed the first time around.  This nuance and authority stand them in very good stead.  Too many modern acts are so thread-bare and unexceptional, you crave something with more substance and meaning.  With so many of their peers falling at early fences- the strains and demands of music are too much- this Leeds quintet is here to stay.  Whilst they have had a slight change- they started as a six-piece- that has not compromised their music and integrity.  This year, we will see another E.P. drop- Facebook suggests the guys are recording at the moment- and that can only mean tour dates and performing across the U.K.  I hope festivals and venues snap these guys up and ensure they make it onto their stages.  I feel too many of us- I include myself with this point- tend to get too safe when it comes to our music tastes.  When we see a unique and unusual act come along- that strays from what we are comfortable with- the noses turn up and the eyes turn away.  It is true, there are so much rubbish acts and waste in music- acts that deserve very little acclaim- but there are a huge amount of acts that deserve a lot of acclaim.  If we all broaden our horizons and embrace something new; that can lead to a broader and more educated musical palette.  Hunting Bears are accessible and by no means an acquired taste.  Sweet Anthony is where they are headed but have a look-back and see where they came from.  A restless and innovative band that could ensure for many years to come- add to their fan-base and discover something fantastic.  Consistency is a hard thing to obtain in modern music.  The level of competition- tied with the over-crowded population of musicians- means it is harder than ever making a lasting impression on the scene.  So many new artists find the realities too daunting:  They will make a few good songs before tiring under the lash of demand and day-to-day work life.  It is a hard graft ensuring fans and media appreciate your music.  Not only do you have to campaign and ensure people listen to what you have produced:  There is that demand to keep your music consistent yet evolving.  It is no good sticking with one formula and repeating things- people grow tired and will look for something new- and the challenge of originality and evolution is scaring a lot of people.  I am looking forward to seeing where the Leeds five-piece are headed next.  It is sure to be exciting and- if Sweet Anthony is any sort of guide- it will lead to a lot of new fans coming aboard.  If you are (currently) not one of them…

SORT yourself out, sharp!



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