Certain songs make you feel younger. It’s something more than nostalgia; there’s a joyous enthusiasm in some music that doesn’t bring you back to the time you were young, but back to the sensation of being young. With the six songs on their debut album, xo, Vancouver duo Bear Mountain achieve this heart-pumping, smile-widening freedom, parsing the elements of dozens of genres and times and spinning them around until the listener becomes gleefully dizzy.
Opening track and lead single “Two Step” encapsulates the Bear Mountain experience perfectly, Ian Bevis and Kyle Statham pulsing a Technicolored insistence in a safety-bladed blender. There are the movie dialog samples of ambient electronic, the ramping square-wave synths of a controlled Dan Deacon, and a sampled vocal with tribal energy. The clap-along drumbeat sounds ripped from some inspirational ’80s track, but then futuristic dubstep bass wobbles crop up, blending time and space until neither is recognizable. The listener is lost in the mix, with only the pure fun of the experience to grasp for balance.
A couple of tracks stick a little too close to genre paradigms (the soul vocal sample and slinky synths of “Swim” fit too tightly in the techno package to be anything but a little dull), but the majority of the album succeeds in defying expectations. “See You Through” opens on a swinging jazz break, before a wash of new wave synths and delayed guitar rush over the top. Just as the song seems to make sense, dramatic disco vocals blur the lines, to only be slanted again by a fade to airy ambience and returned to the beginning. The song unravels like some sort of space opera epic, hopping from genre to genre to achieve some cosmic blueprint.
Clocking in at under half an hour (including a four-minute remix of one of the other tracks, courtesy of SleepyTom), the album is strong but doesn’t have enough time to breath, to let the world’s eccentricities establish themselves in a larger pattern. That said, closing out on the swanky, ethereal “Congo”, with its chopped choir samples and laser synth pulses, proves that epic sense of non-time. xo works within so many ’80s tropes while hitting contemporary pop notes–and refusing to be defined by either.
Essential Tracks: “Two Step”, “See You Through”