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Gold-Bears - Are You Falling In Love?

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Artist: Gold-Bears

Album: Are You Falling In Love?

Label: Slumberland

Review date: Jul. 1, 2011

There are lots of precedents for a record like Are You In Love?, the debut from Atlanta’s Gold-Bears. You can start with their label-mates in The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, who, on their first album especially, set the template for this sort of fizz-popped euphoria. You might draw in Wild Nothing, who cleaned and polished the concept to a fine gloss, or Yuck, who strung out and drawled and fogged over their pretty songs, as if beauty itself was kind of a bore. Cloud Nothings could come up, too, since their infectious balance of twitch and swoon, of swagger and sensitivity, is much like the Gold-Bears. And that’s just the current crop, never mind their forebears in bands like Guided by Voices, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Pavement and so on. The point is that, in conceptual terms at least, Are You In Love? breaks no new ground. And yet, even within defined parameters, this album overfills its boundaries, exceeds whatever limitations the genre sets and explodes with energy. It comes across as altogether fresh, irresistible even, on the strength of its outsized personality, eccentric sweetness and rambunctious hooks.

Gold-Bears is a relatively young band, first convened in 2009 when singer Jeremy Underwood brought together guitarist Erich Leudtke, Dave Fortner and Santiago Archila to perform and record songs he’d written over the previous five years. In 2010, the band released two singles and the Tally EP (about which Still Single’s Andrew Earles wrote, “Remove the animal reference from this band’s name, and this EP would be flawless, relative to what it is trying to accomplish.”) Are You In Love?, the band’s first full-length, was mostly recorded at Leudtke’s home studio, though additional keyboards (Scott Brewer) and vocals (Kristine Capua) were recorded remotely and file-shared into the mix.

The disc’s strongest songs come right at the front. The opening cut, “Record Store,” bristles with guitar aggression, its clipped post-punk skeleton draped with an extravagantly hummable melody. It is here, and in the following “All Those Years,” that the Wedding Present begins to make sense as a point of comparison. There is a good deal of spine in these romance-fogged reveries, a hardness at the core of their dreamy “ba-ba-da-dahs” that separates Gold-Bears’ best songs from most of the latter-day C86ers. Pains of Being Pure At Heart sounds downright twee next to Gold-Bears, Wild Nothing antiseptic and fussy.

The mix of sweetness and noise varies from track to track, but neither is ever allowed to completely dominate. “So Natural” roughs up the guitars until hard strumming blurs into a barbed blanket of white dissonance. Yet even against all this violence, Underwood’s singing ingratiates. He turns earnest, pushing his voice to shove elegant melodic hooks through the roar. The title track flips the proportions, slathering a thick coating of grace and charm on its melodic surface, burying a shoegazer’s howl in the murky bottom of the mix.

After the mid-way point, only “Tally” stands out. Both “Besides You” and “Yeah, Tonight” are sensitive, jangly slogs, while “Xmas Song” fizzes and pops without really taking hold. But with “Tally” the guitar chords ring, the drums clatter, the verse yearns and the chorus finds release, all on the knife-edge between soft pop and battering rock. There’s nothing new here, but much to love, and if “Tally” makes you think 10 songs by 10 other bands, that’s only because it succeeds where they fell short.

By Jennifer Kelly

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