The 2 Bears - Be Strong (2012)

The 2 Bears are Joe Goddard (best known as one-fifth of Hot Chip, but also an active solo artist, producer, and remixer) and Raf Daddy (Raphael Rundell, one of Goddard's cronies in the Greco-Roman Soundsystem DJ squad). Their full-length debut, following (and culling the highlights from) several EPs, is, first of all, a first-rate party record: a fun, frisky, freewheeling romp through several decades of dance music sounds and styles emanating from London, Jamaica (and the Caribbean in general), Chicago, and Detroit, among other places. But it's also something a good deal rarer and more profound: a tremendously heartfelt celebration of music as a force for transformation, togetherness, love, and personal expression. That may sound like so many tired-out House Nation tropes and ostensibly anthemic dancefloor platitudes, but it's a message refocused here through a highly personable delivery -- the deep-voiced Raf Daddy's good-naturedly grizzly pronouncements juxtaposed against Goddard's honeyed hooks and bridges (interestingly, the inverse of his typical vocal interplay with Hot Chip's Alexis Taylor) -- enlivened with plenty of humor (check the thumping, drily droll "Bear Hug"), and tempered by a refreshing frankness: the way "Work" flips the house music commonplace "you gotta work!" as both a dancefloor injunction and a treatise on real-world economic striving (including some choice thoughts on the labor of music-making itself); the way the title track's advice to independent-minded listeners ("you've got to follow your own mind and ears") also works more broadly as a message of self-discovery and acceptance. It's there in the words -- the exhortation to "give the music all your loving"; the recurrent catch phrase "music for days and days and days," and perhaps most movingly, "Heart of the Congos" -- the account of one man's personal history with the titular 1977 dub reggae classic, "the sound that keeps us on the ground" (a tale set, naturally enough, to a pumping 2-step garage beat, dotted with talkbox asides and reverb-soaked horn spliffs). But you can also just feel it in the grooves, which are not only unfailingly generous, good-humored, and warm, but also richly colorful, detail-oriented, and steeped in musical history: they're grounded in house but draw from garage, techno, Euro-disco, dancehall, '80s pop, soul, and more with the kind of open-eared, genre-blind mentality that yields winning curiosities like the breezy, country & western calypso-blues of "Time in Mind." With palate-cleansing breathers like that song (a singalong-ready ditty about the prison of a guilty conscience) and the sunny, tropical-tinged chill-out opener "The Birds & the Bees" spaced out among the steady supply of prime-time bangers (the best being the flawless, through-mixed opening string of "Be Strong," "Bear Hug," and "Work," though the closing trio, leading up to the gloriously exultant organs and steel drums of "Church," is nearly as unstoppable), Be Strong is perfectly sequenced for listening as well as dancing. Though you should really be doing both. Either way, you're in exceptionally good hands -- er, make that paws.

The 2 Bears
Be Strong
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1. The Birds & The Bees
2. Be Strong
3. Bear Hug
4. Work
5. Warm & Easy
6. Take A Look Around
7. Ghosts & Zombies
8. Time In Mind
9. Increase Your Faith
10. Heart Of The Congos
11. Get Together
12. Church

Music label: 
Southern Fried
United States
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