No question, Big Bear's music is rich enough with meticulous subtleties, jarring surprises, primitive thralls, and postmodern thrills to engage any listener game for being, well, engaged. But imagine King Kong joining your book club and you start to understand why Big Bear aren't always met with the reception some might think they deserve. Rather than name bands whom they may or may not sound like, let's just say they exist as a branch of hardcore -- though it's more like a knot in the trunk. The melodies spelled out by Roston's guitar and new addition Joanne Dill's sweet Juno can only be likened to another language, one with foreign sounds and cadences. Meanwhile, the way the engine of Jonathan Sparks on drums and David Altman on bass propels the songs forward without ever resorting to a groove seems to defy physics. At the center is vocalist Jordyn Bonds, who has broadened her awesomely disproportionate shriek of old into a forceful, soaring, breathless, desperate holler. And she still keeps time with a tambourine that she whacks against a skid of cardboard taped to her leg.
Those who check out Boston quintet Big Bear for the first time may be treated to a what-the-fuck preshow sight: the slight, tomboyish vocalist Jordyn Bonds duct-taping what looks like a soccer shin pad to the right thigh of her jeans. What could that be for? In answering the question, Bonds grabs a tambourine the moment Big Bear erupts into action and mercilessly beats her leg with it, over and over, while roaring into the mike?she raises another: What possible use could a tambourine be to a band of emphatic volume junkies like Big Bear? Understanding that simply involves listening closely. The group is not only heavy but preternaturally tight; as Bonds's four bandmates propel the cacophony through jarring fits and starts, moving like a convulsing snake, the tambourine asserts its own din in the interstices. What's completely obscured by the bedlam onstage and on Big Bear's recent self-titled debut (on Monitor, and lacking any song titles) is the inverted idealism within Bonds's lyrics, abstract but stoic inquests into the doggedly messed-up nature of life. They can be read on the band's website (www.bigbearbigbear.com), but singing along is discouraged (unless you have a good throat doctor).
While unquestionably brutal enough to incite the gnarliest of mosh sessions, the debut slab from Boston quintet Big Bear is far more likely to enthrall bloodthirsty math-rock nerdarios than the regular floor-punching goon squad. Complete with jagged Louisville-style riffery, feedback breakdowns and a lineup cobbled from members of rather un-hardcore avant-indie outfits like Polaris Mine and Nationale Blue, only the more enlightened and open-minded from the ?high-fives and stage dives? set are sure to give Big Bear a fair shake. All 12 (untitled) tracks are stuffed with razor-sharp and serpentine licks, fractured rhythms and Jordyn Bonds? tortured shrieks. Oh, she also slams a tambourine into her thigh hard enough to shatter an ordinary person?s femur. Big Bear bursts with a frenetic energy that shifts and detours over and over again, making each track an ever-evolving post-math flurry, but leaves few formal departures from song to song, blurring the distinctions between tracks. Although it may be overkill, the album has got a hell of a formula: a schizophrenic sense of melody, Residents-friendly dissonance and Bonds yelping above the chaos like a Jack Russell with its hindquarters caught in a meat grinder. It?s the much-needed wake-up call that can slap silly any jackass who still sleeps with his copy of Spiderland.
...The band of the night with the best chance of blowing up was Big Bear, a female-fronted Boston band that plays jagged, screamy spazzcore, almost shocking in its ferocity especially considering how mild-mannered everyone in the band seems between songs.
On their debut, Boston-based Big Bear blast through a dizzying sonic freakout. Not quite as ADD-addled as the Blood Brothers, but more caustic than Unwound, this quartet pummels the line between indie rock and punk. Short, furious songs tear into your speakers and leave broken shards of heavy metal all over your floor. Big Bear's song structures lurch from one extreme to another, rear-ending a sustained drone with a chunky start-stop motif, then drenching the whole thing in blinding riffs. The guitars twist around each other, working in tandem rhythmically but at odds melodically. This antagonism gives the music an overwhelming air of tension. Then, atop this unsettling base, there are the vocals: shrieking, tortured sounds that make it impossible to discern meaning or intent. In fact, the vocals are so maniacal that most of the time it's hard to tell if they are male or female (both Joel Roston and Jordyn Bonds get vocal credits).
Despite all of this madness, the record makes sense. True, it's the kind of sense the tinfoil hat-wearing lunatic on the corner makes, but the record leaves you with that lingering worry that maybe Big Bear are the only sane people out there. After repeated listens, the album begins to coalesce, with hints of riffs in "Track 3" popping up in "Track 7" and "Track 10" (the tracks have no names -- they're just referred to by number). Furthermore, as the melodies -- or whatever you choose to call the mind-bending sequence of notes that guitarists Roston and John McWilliams play -- begin to take root in your head, the screaming vocals start to sound like the only reasonable response. Music this crazy sounds like it ought to be easy to make -- after all, the meter is loose, the melodies sound improvised, and the singing sounds like mere bellowing. However, the thing that demonstrates Big Bear's true skill is music's underlying grid of calculation. While this takes some time to reveal itself, it just goes to further demonstrate the actual skill required to put together an album like this. As a result, in an age when "post-" genres dominate the underground, Big Bear are set to take the scene by force.
No wave with a prog twist. A lot like U.S. Maple working its way through King Crimson. Loads stranger and cooler than it sounds, too.
Damned if I can really describe this any further. There are two guitars which seem to play rhythm or lead at their leisure, although most of the time they both play lead, sometimes playing in parallel, separated by one meager octave. Thing is, I never could predict what might happen next.
That, of course, is a very good thing. Predictable rock and roll sucks. Big Bear is anything but.
Maybe it's simply been too long since I've heard something in the same ballpark, but Big Bear simply knocks me out. The power, the pain, the sheer agony of the enterprise enthralls me. Turn to 11. And then try to up it to 12.
Thanks to Converge, the Blood Brothers, and Dillinger Escape Plan, heavy metal sounds much more unruly than it did last century: the primacy of momentous riffs has given way to cracked-mirror refractions, shards and splatters delivered at hardcore's hyperspeed tempi. The old thrash metal evoked the militaristic trudge of lumbering heavy machinery; in the new language, riffs that begin in dense, rhythmic gurgles often end in dissonant, raking screeches, like the sudden sickening gasp of twisting steel in a car wreck. The songs are usually so fast that to listeners, like rubberneckers in the passing lane, they register as only a blur.
The Allston quintet Big Bear have absorbed this lexicon and its many permutations, but on their debut album, they do something new with it: they slow it down. And that makes a huge difference. Big Bear is something like the South of Heaven of spazz metal: its songs aren?t slow, just slower. The riffs unspool, tangle, and quiver as if someone were tying suspension-bridge cables into geo-abstractionist knots, but they stay riveted in place just long enough for onlookers to appreciate their sculptural integrity. On the opening track (the disc has no track listing; all its songs are officially untitled), guitarists John McWilliams and Joel Roston claw out a punishing chord ? but then the chord gets loose, squirming away in different directions like a fistful of slippery eels. You picture them chasing after the notes and strangling them, just as singer Jordyn Bonds rushes in and screams, in a high-pitched rasp, "What is choice, then, a ruse?" In another band?s hands, this would all fly by before the song?s stark edges snapped into sharp focus, but on Big Bear, it?s picture-perfect.
Truth be told, I've never been in a fight. Child of the '80s that I was, I recall threatening one of the more aggressive bullies in the yard with litigation rather than volunteer my frame to a prompt and brutal bending. Thankfully, there's no need for any of you to school me yourselves, as a few listens to Big Bear's debut is as good an introduction to getting my ass handed to me as any. Adding insult to injury, it's not even like I can secretly delight in the attention it requires to be singled out. This is a wholesale, indiscriminate wallop to both sides of the head-not unlike getting mugged; but rather than your wallet and watch, the bandits make off with every last bit of your precious context. No printed lyrics to look to for answers; no song titles marking the streets; nothing familiar enough to grant you even the most temporary bearings. Just 12 howling tracks' worth of trouble: the guitar lines of Joel Roston and John McWilliams' nasty-ass guitars tumbling down fire escapes; Jordyn Bonds' shrill shriek teetering between ?Help me!? and ?Fuck off!? (their lyrics are better, I'm certain); and the whole thing laid out unforgivingly like an unknown section of town. You'll be roughed up, oh yes; but deep down you'll be psyched that you lived to drop their names.
I've been dying to see Big Bear for weeks. They take they stage first---two guitars, bass, drums, and this singer that looks like my friend's eight-year-old niece. The guitars start to thrum, people start elbowing up front, and this tiny girl opens her little mouth and just SCREAMS like nothing I've heard before. The sound is so rich and huge and balanced---they're laying out everything I love about The Melvins and this chick is actually banging a tambourine against her hip as she thrashes around with her pixie haircut and her unholy howling and holy shit, I want to drop everything and follow this band wherever they go. They play five songs, each better than the last, and by the end of their set I'm drooling, ready to buy anything and everything they have and the tiny girl says, "We have a mailing list." Sadness sets in. Big Bear, I love you. I really do. Make me a fucking tape already.
Boston's own Big Bear finished off the night with an unrelenting avalanche of metallic art-punk. The five-piece's close-knit compositions pummeled and exploded in a fashion not unlike the late, great Unwound. The rabid banshee shrieks of Jordyn Bonds pierced straight through the furious sludge disseminated by the four dudes that surrounded her. A bit too overpowering to be called math-rock, Big Bear nonetheless incorporated a few elements from that largely worthless sub-subgenre of unpopular pop music, but not in an annoying or ostentatious way. And anyhow, math-rock is just prog-rock played by punks with no sense for melody. Big Bear's music did and does have some melody to it, the sort of dissonant, fractured melody found in the occasional early Sonic Youth song, or the work of the aforementioned Unwound. One could call Big Bear's music difficult in that it doesn't offer easy access to the more traditional minded music fan. I wouldn't personally agree with that estimation, but could understand why others would find this to be so. Regardless, they played a damn fine show on this otherwise unimportant summer Sunday evening.
A million guitars
Cried out in torment and then
Were silenced at once
Nominated for 2006 Metal Album of the Year
Nominated for 2006 Best Local Metal/Hardcore Act