Places on the Side

Dec 17, 2008 at 12:00 am

Named after the Manistee County lakeside town that the six lifelong friends in this band call home, Bear Lake first earned mass critical acclaim with its debut album, Catch the Sun. Since then, the band's continued to pull in new local fans at an impressive rate, thanks to its ethereal live shows.

To refer to Bear Lake as "indie rock" is accurate but it's also irritatingly lazy; the secret of this band's thought-provoking and deliciously emotional sound is that the group's not at all afraid of minimalism and, conversely, also knowing the perfect moment to fill out a song part to epic proportions. They're mildly reminiscent of Manchester bands like the Stone Roses or even the Verve in that they don't shy away from electronic toys and loops but still manage to sound very much like a rock 'n' roll band. Taking all of that into consideration, it's fair to say that Bear Lake is probably the closest Michigan gets to our own Radiohead (if Michigan indeed needs its own Radiohead).

For those that were fortunate enough to discover the band through the debut album, there will be little in the way of surprises on this disc, though that isn't to say that it isn't a hugely satisfying record. The shared songwriting has taken a dramatic leap forward, notably on songs like the title track, "The Best One" and "Where Do We Go From Here," all of which see lead vocalist Matt Hines crooning with a delicate ease and a magnificent sense of subtlety. His vocal parts find him keeping things simple, yet they also soar throughout.

The best song on the record, though, is the closing "Just Because You Can," a track that inspires the listener to shut the lights off and smoke a cigarette while simply letting the head sway. It's very much like The The or, once again, Radiohead.

The music business is notoriously unpredictable, especially these days, but, given the right backing, Bear Lake has every chance of swaying heads nationwide and beyond.