Harper and the Bears

Theta Waves

3.5 pulses

Last December, members of alternative rock outfit Harper and the Bears packed up their instruments in Kingsport, Tenn., to settle into a new home—Murfreesboro’s diverse music scene. The band has since dipped into the local house show circuit and, in the process, released its nine-track debut album, Theta Waves, in the spring. As the first group to sign to Bristol, Tenn., label Gold Ship Records in 2014, core members Joshua Harper, Chase Garner and Brandon Byington present a project featuring songs on the heavier side of alt-rock along with tracks that flirt with its softer acoustic counterpart.

Though Harper and the Bears come from a midsize East Tennessee town, there are noticeable elements in both Harper’s vocals and the actual music that resemble artists from across the pond. To strengthen its English vibe at times, the album’s rock tracks, such as “Ghost” and “Saint Marie’s,” are reminiscent of early Arctic Monkeys, while the stripped-down numbers are comparable to the likes of singer/songwriter Jake Bugg and London alt-pop group Bastille. While this may not have been the band’s intention, the similarities add to the record’s appeal.

The album’s only setback is, at times, its lackluster production on half the record. While most tracks ring out with a clean rock sound, the remaining songs are strictly acoustic and bare-boned. Because of this, the record’s instrumentation occasionally sulks too low in the mix, which leaves Harper singing over the mute of a distant guitar. This is most evident on the tracks “Theta Waves,” “Dead Man’s Suit” and “Relief Is Not Mine,” all interpolated somewhat randomly throughout the release. Although both styles sound fine on their own, it’s slightly jarring to go from studio quality recordings to songs recorded outside during a rainy summer afternoon (which is actually the case on the acoustic tracks).

Despite the band’s decision to mix the acoustic songs in with the full-bodied tracks, it’s still an enjoyable listen. Would the band have fared well with two releases, such as a stripped-down EP followed by a solid full-length release? Probably so. But it certainly shouldn’t deter listeners from checking out the band’s future releases.

Listen to Theta Waves on iTunes and Amazon and via streaming platforms Spotify and Apple Music. Follow the band’s Facebook page for up-to-date events in the Murfreesboro and Nashville area.

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