Listening to Bjéar’s self-titled release makes a few things very evident. First, although I’m not personally huge into Bon Iver, it’s hard to deny their influence on the scene. Also, they’re one of a select few bands that actually put Wisconsin on the map, so I can’t be too upset. Secondly, being a “new band” means vastly different things depending on your age. Obviously a teen group playing a battle of the bands isn’t comparable to a supergroup.
With that said, Bjéar, which I’m not quite sure how to pronounce, is a new band. However, the only obstacle that seems to accompany this fact is the group’s obscurity. The maturity of the songs and the inclusion of ambient elements and baritone vocals is enough to warm my cold, folk-hating heart (I may be exaggerating on my distaste here).
Bjéar mixes influences from the aforementioned Bon Iver, vocal stylings of The National (and even Ed Sheeran at times), and a level of ambience that ultimately makes the group sound distinct from their musical predecessors.
Nevada is a highlight track, and being the second track on the album, quickly sets the tone for what the band can accomplish. You’ll easily forget vocalist Bear McKee is Australian (unless you have a Master’s degree in linguistic studies or something). The song progresses naturally, and the use of trumpet is a really nice touch at the end.
However, its followup, Washington, opts for a faster tempo with driving drums, delicate strings, and even piano. While it feels odd to describe a fast song as cinematic, it definitely feels like an appropriate description given the composition.
While I wouldn’t say much of the album draws this comparison, Big Sky sounds like it’d fit right on Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell due to the vocal stylings and minimalistic approach on the instrumental end.
Nell is yet another decidedly cinematic venture and is followed by the closer, Tuolomne. It’s a soulful confession of faith where McKee’s gravely timbre really shines. It’s a discreet ending as opposed to the some of the more vibrant and layered endings on other tracks, but it’s suiting nonetheless.
Naturally, the rest of the album is full of powerful moments as well. There are Josh Garrels-esque vocals and synths on Firefall, an extended, crescendo ending on Cold, and the soulful-and-organ-driven Hymn amid the other tracks.
This debut is a strong showcase of a unique blend of styles and definitely positions the band in a good place moving forward.
For fans of: Bon Iver, Josh Garrels, The National, Passenger, Sufjan Stevens