PUMP UP THE VOLUME: Sunbears! (or) We're in this together...
My first encounter with Jonathan Berlin and Jared Bowser's particular musical gifts came in the form of Bernard--one of my favorite Jax locals. They were playing a DIY show at the BSM in Tallahassee, probably with Forever Changed or Cool Hand Luke and they were quite out of place and really fantastic. I was running sound that night and it's always a pleasure to run sound for guys that know what they want AND how to get it. I saw them progress through the next couple of years as they were inevitably be on bills I wanted to see or bills where our respective bands would be playing. In that time I started to develop an opinion on their music that, while I truly enjoyed it, I felt like they could take it farther than they were and I believed that they knew this to be reality as well (these are some intelligent gentlemen we are talking about...). Then as things so often seem to go, Bernard was no more.
I was always disappointed that I never was able to see the band that I knew was there, but never fully blossomed. Over the years I know there have been other projects but none really had the buzz that Bernard had--until this little band called Sunbears! started making waves regionally a couple of years ago. I think the first time I actually heard Sunbears! was on the split 7-inch they did with Mr. ENC, and, while I was stoked to hear it, it did little for me. I heard other tracks over time from other ep's but nothing was clicking with me--the talent was there for sure, but...nothing. However I was now in Jacksonville surrounded by a "hometown" fan base that adored them and the particular brand of Kool Aid they served, so I hoped that one day I would "get it", that my musical palate would soon acquire this taste, that I too would one day buy the hype...Enter friend and synconation.com scribe Jeremy Alan Gould.
So we (Jeremy and myself) find ourselves on our way to Tallahassee and conversing about music, life, liberty, our precious Seminoles--you know the important things--and in the process my feelings on Sunbears! comes to light. Jeremy says "you should hear their new stuff...it's different", he then proceeded to play a cd with the unreleased new material, and, while the full weight of just how "different" it was did not immediately hit me, the seed of curiosity was absolutely planted! I tried in vain to see them a couple of times; their release came and went and I had yet to really listen to the new record. Alas! Synconation Records announced it's second release and first physical release would be a beautiful vinyl pressing of
You Will Live Forever.
I recently received my copy in all it's Holiday glory (I'm affectionately referring to it as "marbled fruitcake" colored wax). Here are my thoughts...
I. Love. This. Record. In two sides, roughly 45 minutes, 13 tracks, and 33 1/3 rpm's these two have met and/or exceeded every hope I've ever had for their music. From their chrysalis they have emerged matured. Like an 18-year-old scotch or an aged wine they provide bold, challenging, and often beautiful flavors that go down quite smoothly. I have downed this Kool Aid, friends, and it tastes good! There are, however, a couple of things I have to get out of the way before we continue. 1.) Please, can we all stop comparing them to the Flaming Lips? In my opinion it does a disservice to them and it is not THAT accurate, yes, there are some similarities at points but their aesthetic is better represented by comparisons to the Polyphonic Spree or Menomena. The stark reality is that the influences represented here are broad in scope, and quality in taste. They owe more to mid-career Beatles and early Plastic Ono Band, to early Pink Floyd, to flourishes of 80's new wave and no wave sounds. You Will Live Forever comes across, as neo-60's post-mod filtered through the soundtrack to the Never Ending Story. 2.) This is not a sugary sweet confection. Maybe at points I could understand thinking that about some of their music--though I tend to challenge that idea as well. You Will Live Forever gorgeously strikes a balance between the heavy-hearted, the whimsical, the human, and the divine.
You Will Live Forever starts off with the title track, a lovey piano piece that hearkens unto Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (the opening track from the album of the same name). The transition to Give Love A Try (the name is synopsis enough for the lyrical theme) lays the groundwork for the overall range of the album as it moves from the lovely to the bombastically fun. Together Forever brings a nice 60's pop, quasi-Motown infused slow burner that would make Lenny Kravitz take notice. Expressing some of life's more somber realities "it's hard to be a saint/when the saints have demons too/ it's hard to live life right, it's true." but luckily "we ARE in this together" [emphasis mine]. Dying Alone, Without Myself is one of my favorite moments on the record and it's most beautiful track. Your heart will break as you hear the fragile vulnerability in Jonathan's voice, reminiscent of a young Neil Young, as he delivers the lines "he's living beside himself/his body unwinds itself/his head is a prison cell for his thoughts" and climaxes with a choral vocal line that simply breathes Danny Elfman's fantastic score from Edward Scissorhands. The record picks up in it's second half with They Think They're Soooo Philosophical and It's Hard! Be Content Where You Are which lead to the high water mark of the album in the hopeful sing-a-long anthem We're Alive and the raucous closer Live! Don't Stop Trying (both as memorable as they are self-explanatory!)
To say Jonathan Berlin's impressive songwriting prowess and multi-instrumentation and Jared Bowser's incendiary drumming (not a shabby multi-instrumentalist himself) are on the height of display here, would be quite the understatement, but to get lost in the unimaginably multi-layered sonics of the record is a disservice in it's own right. You see, within this record's grooves lies some rather poignant observations regarding the human experience that range from humorous to heart wrenching and just as we have all experienced these things, this is a record for everyone and begs to be heard AND shared.
Listen to Their Music Here What are your thoughts?
Article by Paul Thomas Chapman