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The 10 best "Bear" bands in rock 'n' roll

Of course Panda Bear made the list.
Of course Panda Bear made the list.
Flickr/Chi King

Enough with all of the endless chatter about the best hair bands of all-time. What about the best "Bear" bands? While listening to Bear In Heaven's new album, Time Is Over One Day Old, I was struck by the proliferation in "Bear" band names. What exactly drives this musical fascination with these furry, four-legged beasts? It's not just a new development, either, as a smattering of groups from decades past have drawn their names from our distant but engrossing relationship with bears.

No matter what lies at the heart of rock music's continual preoccupation with bears, it seems like bands in this modern era -- more than any other -- routinely draw their names from something bear related. Here is a long-overdue look at the best bands with "Bear" in their moniker.

10. Bear Hands This experimental indie band out of New York have been plagued by comparisons to MGMT since their formation due to their shared reliance on unpredictable sonic elements, as well as frontman Dillon Rau being classmates at Wesleyan with MGMT's Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser. So in order to shake those comparisons, the group has consistently tried to keep their music weird and inventive. But it has proven to be tough for Bear Hands to out-weird MGMT. Some attempts have sounded hollow and uninspired, but when they get the formula just right (like Goldilocks' three bears and their porridge) their malaise-drenched, synth-heavy post-punk churns with a refreshing urgency.

9. Bearsuit This art-pop band from Norwich, England first taught the indie kids how to loosen up and dance when legendary Radio 1 DJ John Peel spun their catchy debut single, "Hey Charlie, Hey Chuck," back in 2001. Plenty of sonic evolutions and radical lineup changes later, their quick-hitting, keys-laden sound was appealing for the next decade, but quiet since 2011. It appears this Bearsuit has been hung up with care in the closet for the time being. But their sprightly debut album, Cat Spectacular!, will always carry on as a fun Friday night record that also, conveniently enough, features an inflatable bear on the album cover.

8. Minus the Bear This Seattle alt-rock band's name is derived from a crude joke a friend made about a date he went on. He referred to the 35-year-old TV show B.J. and the Bear -- and we'll let you figure out the rest. Turns out, the music is also injected with a sense of humor. Evidence comes in the form of album titles like Highly Refined Pirates, This Is What I Know About Being Gigantic, and Bands Like It When You Yell "Yar!" at Them. A fuselage of prog and indie rock sensibilities makes for a wild, spacey aesthetic that goes over well on both the club and festival circuit. It'd be tough to reach the cult classic significance of the TV show, they have still done their part to add to the growing cultural lexicon of the "Bear" bands' brand.

7. Art Bears We're digging deep for this one, as the Art Bears were an experimental English avant-rock trio from the late '70s and early '80s. The group formed out of the ashes of another beloved unorthodox rock fusion band, Henry Cow. Art Bears' founding members -- Chris Cutler, Fred Frith, and Dagmar Krause -- continued to take their untamed, free-form sound in complex new directions with their spin-off project. Technically, the name came from a quote from Jane Ellen Harrison's Ancient Art and Ritual: "Even to-day, when individualism is rampant, art bears traces of its collective, social origin," Cutler insists that they intentionally took the quote out of context and they enjoyed that their ridiculous band name had an animal in it. Their radical sound has a lingering influence on the current music scene, as their influence can be heard in Dirty Projectors, David Byrne, St. Vincent, and other like-minded modern sonic experimentalists. But it's impossible to shake the image of a bunch of smock-wearing bears creating their own masterpieces on canvases.

6. Seabear This Icelandic indie-folk outfit rightfully went for the underwater bear brethren for their band name, as their sound comes in refined waves clearly influenced by their oceanic surroundings. What began as a solo project for Sindri Már Sigfússon has gradually blossomed to a septet, with their textured numbers taking on a subtle experimentalism that caused Rolling Stone to refer to Sigfússon as the "Icelandic Beck." And, based on the mere fact that the chances of the group actually encountering an occasional polar bear in their homeland is significantly greater than any indie band in Brooklyn, their claim on their bear-based name is far more substantial than those of their city-dwelling American counterparts. Seabear's last record, We Built A Fire, came out in 2010, so you would be correct in assuming that the band has gone into hibernation over the past few years.

 

5. Sombear

Sombear is the mercurial, synth-heavy side project of Now, Now drummer, Bradley Hale. Ostensibly a play on "somber," the flippant inclusion of bear in its name brings some levity to the project, but also more than warrants Sombear's inclusion on this list. Hale's debut record as Sombear, Love You In the Dark, is a thoroughly modern interpretation on present day relationships, and the textured, beat-driven sounds reflect both the intimacy and distance of contemporary interaction. There are more somber notes involved in this project than there are bear references in the songs (of which there are none) but Hale's clever wordplay put a beastly spin on his band name.

4. Bear In Heaven Brooklyn-based trio, Bear In Heaven, have been churning out inventive, beguiling rock sounds for over a decade now, led by the imaginative creative vision of Jon Philpot. Their layered, hypnotic rock sound frequently builds to massive, irresistible choruses that are pushed forward by angular guitar riffs and towering rhythms. There are subtle EDM elements that course through Bear In Heaven's beats, so it's not surprising that the group has collaborated with Lindstrøm while also allowing their stellar 2009 breakthrough album, Beast Rest Forth Mouth, to be remixed by artists like the Field, High Places, and Justin K. Broadrick. Bear In Heaven's enthralling sounds lend themselves to being reworked and stylized, and on their glorious new record, Time Is Over One Day Old, it almost sounds like the band are remixing themselves in the midst of their own songs. The band name might perhaps be a response to the questions all children who have lost a pet eventually ask, "Do animals go to heaven?" We've found some deserving souls.

3. Huggy Bear While the riot grrrl movement was taking hold of Olympia, Washington, in the early '90s, its influence was felt all the way across the pond in Brighton, England. The restless, dissatisfied core of that musical campaign was taken to heart by Huggy Bear, who appropriated it into their own self-styled girl-boy revolution. The fiercely independent group eventually partnered up with riot grrrl standard-bearers, Bikini Kill, for a legendary split called, Our Troubled Youth/Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah. Huggy Bear's pioneering EP, Rubbing the Impossible to Burst, continues to hold an influence over the modern era of music (Savages, Perfect Pussy, etc.) but the incendiary, inflammatory band was never built to last, and they quickly dissolved after releasing their lone full-length effort, Weaponry Listens to Love. They blazed all too quickly across the music scene, but their urgent, fitful anthems continue to have a hold on me, to the point when someone mentions Huggy Bear I immediately think of the band as opposed to the far more familiar character on Starsky and Hutch.

2. Panda Bear Noah Lennox performs as Panda Bear in Animal Collective, and has also taken that name in his experimental, electro-pop solo side project. AnCo's albums have grown a bit redundant and stale in the past few years, but Panda Bear maintains a fresh, contemporary sound that pushes the ambient psych-pop scene in an exciting new direction. His 2007 album, Person Pitch, is often hailed as that genre's masterpiece, and rather than rely on the critical success and end-of-the-year accolades that was bestowed on that album, Lennox has shifted styles and direction with his recent Panda Bear output. He's also collaborated with Bradford Cox in Atlas Sound, played with Ducktails and Zomby, and even appeared on Daft Punk's Grammy Winning 2013 Album of the Year, Random Access Memories. That exposure and involvement in such disparate sounds and styles has allowed Panda Bear to refine and experiment with the direction of his own innovative material, and his long rumored new solo album, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, is hopefully going to be released sometime soon.

1. Grizzly Bear Grizzly Bear are named after the one of the biggest and most majestic of the bear species, and the name suits the Brooklyn-based indie group. Grizzly Bear is the rare band in the modern musical climate that continues to grow and get better as their career goes along. While many view their exquisite 2009 album, Veckatimest, as the band's masterpiece, their 2012 release, Shields, further honed and refined their lush, atmospheric chamber-pop sound, and firmly established the group as one of contemporary rock's most inspired bands. Due to Chris Taylor's expressive production, Grizzly Bear's albums have always sounded immaculate, bringing the listener in to the sonic heart of their songs, while the impassioned vocals of Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen continually lead you somewhere special. If they keep going at this impressive rate, Grizzly Bear will be hard to bump off the top spot on the hotly contested list of best bear bands in music.

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