I have a soft spot for artists and bands that go against the grain. The alternative, experimental, the genre fusing. In an age when music is made for profit rather than passion they keep a bit of the old romanticism of the trend setters alive. They, and their record companies, know that they’re never going to be able to compete with the huge marketing machines of the major labels so that gives them a lot of freedom to try something new, even if it is something as simple as writing the music that they want to write. My Name is Bear is the debut solo album from Nahko of Nahko and Medicine for the People, and similar to his previous work blends world music with a range of different styles.
Opening with ‘Dragonfly’, Nahko sets the pace and texture for the rest of the album with its Moderato tempo and arrangement of guitar and percussion with life affirming and nature based lyrics. At its heart My Name is Bear has a folk pop base that gets mixed about with something across the tracks, such as with the rap lite ‘Call Him by His Name’ or the replacement of the acoustic arrangement for an electrical one on ‘Early February’. Interspersed throughout the album is a collection of spoken word tracks recorded while on the road. In fact the album itself is a collection of songs from the road, sometimes with little nods to Jack Kerouac; gathered during Nahko’s formative years while “travelling through the wild landscapes of Alaska, Hawaii and Louisiana”.
The mixture of rustic guitar with an upbeat pace gives it a folk pop feel similar Simon and Garfunkel or Mumford and Sons while Nahko’s use of tribal spirituality gives it a uniqueness of its own. Despite the upbeat nature of the songs tempo, the life affirming lyrics hide bittersweet stories about loss of love, both romantic and family, death and uncertainty about the future. Life affirming also means dealing with the rough as well as the smooth.
But the album is not without its problems. Despite each song trying something new with the arrangement, it does become repetitive after a while with none of the emotional payoff we were promised. Each song covers the same group of themes in the same way, swapping them about to give them enough of a difference. It’s a concept album without any underlining concept; a collection of moments, both melancholy and cheerful, from Nahko’s life. A very pretty and well-arranged moments but at the same time lacking the deeper level a concept album would have. Instead of a story we have a journal.
My Name is Bear is a very pretty album with deep lyrics, there is no taking away from that. It’s just that it could have gone much deeper.
My Name Is Bear is out now on SideOneDummy Records.