The Wandering Bears

The Wandering Bears
The Wandering Bears

Iowa City indie pop quintet, The Wandering Bears, have offered up a potluck, of sorts, for their self-titled debut. The Bears have cribbed a little bit from nearly every great left-of-center pop act and placed it all in front of you in heaping, steaming, well-produced portions.

The group, comprised of members of The Western Front and Vagabonds, opens with the glitchy, down-tempo, electropop number “William S. Burroughs Teaches Photography” (they also have a knack for whip-smart-alec titles), followed by the alt-country swagger of “Tom Bodett Rearranges his Living Room.”

Yet, The Wandering Bears are at their finest with meat and potatoes pop tunes like the bubbly, twee-ish “Oh! Sorry Sir.” and the piano-driven “Michael May Dances Like a Man.” They only really stumble on the tracks which veer into rock ‘n’ roll. Both “Going Down” and “My Way” come off a bit clunky and don’t stack up well against the other six tracks.

The sweet spot on The Wandering Bears, though, is the one-two punch closing out the record: “Dialectic” and “Take Care, Kiddo.” Both are stunningly mature break-up songs, something lacking on still emo-fueled Top 40. “Dialectic” still mourns being single, and doesn’t try to circumvent sentimentality, but the clear-eyed appraisal of the relationship’s shortcomings (“I get defensive/you’re apprehensive”) and reluctance to place blame is refreshing. So too are the harmonies on the second verse (featured during two of the finest minutes on the album), the vibes peppered in during the climax, and the delicate, and evocatively picked acoustic guitar line.

“Take Care, Kiddo” may be a little condescending (if the title implies nothing else), but it’s certainly a playful take on heartbreak. After the sultry, torch-carrying opening, the remaining four minutes are a celebration of all the other fish in the sea, and time healing all wounds. With call and response verses over piano vamps, an a capella, five-part harmony breakdown, and the hooky-as-hell chorus, “Take Care, Kiddo” is easily the finest pop song released in Iowa City this year.

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