Bear Hands got our attention with their promising single “Giants”, the first single off of their sophomore album, Distraction. Their second record is chock-full of singles and catchy hooks that you’ll end up mindlessly citing throughout the day; tidbits of wisdom such as, “Who needs a bed anymore?” (from “Sleeping On The Floor”) or my personal favorite to decontextualize, “The lies/ The lies/ The bullshit and the lies” (from “Bone Digger”).
The opening track, “Moment of Silence”, warms you up to the fast-paced album with an accapella-esque intro leading into some chaotic keys and galloping percussion. The album version of “Giants” then sidles its way in, followed by the humorous “Agora” (a reference to Agoraphobia – a psychological disorder defined by the fear of public spaces).
Distraction excels at those hard/soft moments. For example on “Giants”: the rapid recitation of the verses contrasted against the slower, groovier chorus. Or in “Peacekeeper”: which goes in hard and fast with the crashing cymbals, lyrically detailing a man whose body is a weapon; the song somehow ends up in soft self-reflection. I don’t know how they make these juxtapositions work, but they do. And that’s what I’ve come to expect from Bear Hands – a sort of sonic schizophrenia.
The two singles – “Giants” and “Agora” – are followed by the next potential hit, “Bone Digger”. After three solid singles, “Vile Iowa” is a moment to slow down and listen to the atmospheric chorus, “You’re a star in my eyes”, which is quite nicely accented by some simple guitar chords. Here Dylan’s voice takes on an ethereal quality opposed to the brashness he pushes for in the other songs. I could totally see this song in a John-Cusack-holding-radio-overhead-to-win-girl-back type movie scene (movie reference here). This is a breathing moment before the second half of the album, which is just as raucous as the first half. They return to high energy guitar jams with “Bad Friend” – a theme song for those bros who are always letting you down.
The violent “Peacekeeper” follows “The Bug” – quite possibly my favorite song on the album. Akin to “Giants”, it allows for a more spacious chorus so you can really hear Val’s bass riffs and the keyboard’s melodies. The humorous lyrics describe the foibles of a man who’s looking for a “willing partner” and thus will pretty much settle for anything: “Call me now or don’t call me ever/ or call me any time at all”. The wittiness continues with “Sleeping On The Floor”: “Who wants to dress up/ and look their best/ beyond the front door”. Great question. This song sounds like a fraternal twin to “Agora” in the sense that the character expresses a reluctance in going out in public or adjusting to the “real world”; except here, this guy just gives no f*@%$ about overcoming his phobia or abnormal behavior. What really is normal or abnormal behavior anway? Who needs a bed anymore? “Don’t act like it’s a murder scene/ It’s my home and I will fill it twice”. Dude’s got a point.
“Party Hats” again highlights the bass and keys in a little coolheaded, apocalyptic musing: sure the world may be falling apart but “the future is nothing to fear”. The last track, “Thought Wrong”, is a melancholic, retrospective glimpse of a failed relationship. It’s definitely a sad note to end on, especially for such an upbeat album. Dylan’s gentle and wistful vocals are accompanied by some light drum machine and harp-like guitar strains. It’s a depressing tale, but that just gives you an excuse to go back to track 1 and start the psychological journey of Distraction all over again!