Five years after their outstanding debut What is Home, the Ayrshire collective brownbear have released the anticipated follow up album Demons to the world.
Fronted by the multi talented Matt Hickman, second album Demons takes us on a journey of love, loss and everything in between. The past few years have been challenging for the band following the impact of the lockdown on the music industry. Living off the high from the first album success and the incredible live opportunities they experienced supporting bands such as The Libertines across the UK, the band had to face the big ol’ question, what now? Demons takes us on the journey of reigniting those passions, dealing with their own ‘demons’ and finding solace in change. Sounds deep, and at times it is, but mostly it’s just pure upbeat joy.
Like the first album, Demons kicks off with an infectiously upbeat track. All I Want was the second single from the album and is an exceptional opener at that. Starting with a soft acoustic overture, its only 8 seconds before the full band kick in, bringing the volume and up tempo momentum with them that flows straight into Close Call. The first single from the album, Close Call has quickly becoming a fan favourite. What I love about this song is the heartfelt metaphorical comparisons which relate to Matt’s passionate relationship with music. It’s composed beautifully building momentum on every verse to a thrilling finale.
Let Your Guard Down
After a couple of high tempo tunes, it’s time to slows things down with Let Your Guard Down. A much needed respite moment that really engages the listener. From the first few notes, Let Your Guard Down feels and sounds safe and familiar. Like a big welcoming hug which reflects message of the song wholly. This feels like a real turning point of the album. From gently breaking in the listener with the up-tempo sing along anthems, this one suggests the listener begin to reflect on their own ‘demons’
Take your time continues the positive ambience of the album. A love song at heart with an orchestral accompaniment giving strong Motown doowop dance vibes. There is a lot going on in this album genre wise and every song showcases their versatility.
The mid point of the album comes from Telling Stories. A song that continues to experiment further with different genres, this time with a distinct Caribbean soul vibe. The ambient strumming compliments albums overall tender message of struggle and acceptance whilst maintaining an optimistic tone.
Title track Demons is much more upbeat than one would expect from such a title. More keys than guitar based, this song strikes as a remorseful reflection of one’s own toxic behaviour. The songs hook is within it’s verses where a fleeting key change adds definition and intrigue. There is real growth in this album, the additions of piano based tunes exemplifies the potential that brownbear have to move within.
Little White Lies is another favourite track off Demons. This one sounds sounds vaguely familiar but unique enough to establish authenticity. Probably one of the most emotional songs from the album too. Giving similar comforts like Let Your Guard Down does, Little White Lies punches a little harder to gut.
You’re doing your best to get clean againbrownbear – little white lies
I can tell you’re really trying
But its not long before the knock at the door
It happens every time
I can’t predict the future but I know where this will end.
Melodie contradicts the angst of its softer predecessor. It signifies the next turn in the journey which comes from acceptance and thirst for change. It’s clear that for brownbear this album is a clear game changer. Whilst the first album was great in its own right, it was a collective of years worth of work and hard graft that they could pick and choose the best material from. A second album is very different. There’s no safe space to fall back on, growth and creativity is expected and it could go either way.
Spin another Web is a beautiful piano ballad which offers a reflective opportunity to work out your own “demons’. The reference to mirrors and reflection only strengthen this analysis. A simple piano track but allows for focus on Matt’s uniquely refreshing gravelly soulful voice. Indie and soul together is not a genre experimented with enough. Perhaps because it’s not easy to pull off but brownbear appear do it seamlessly.
Standing up to racial inequality is strong passion of brownbears’ Matt Hickman. Having come from an African immigrant family, Matt is an active ally and supporter of diversity in the arts and beyond. This passion hasn’t been escaped on Demons and concluding the album is Unity. With a strong protest energy accompanied by a gospel choir, Unity is a passionate finale to this journey. Whilst this door is now closing, Unity hints at one still to be opened.
Demons is an outstanding effort from an independent band who deserve the utmost recognition. There is so many genres being explored here which could become clutter but brownbear seem to achieve it so fluently that it really works. It’s creative, honest and outspoken whilst maintaining a positive upbeat soul with huge sing-along potential. If you weren’t a fan before then Demons will convert you to the not so dark side of brownbear.
Words by Anne Kelly