While riding in a coworker’s truck recently, listening to Himalayan Bear’s newest album No Golden Kingdom, I remarked on what I initially felt was a nod to the Fleet Foxes. There was something in the lilting, baroque vocal melodies, reverb-drenched guitar and images of northwest coastal nature on album opener “Fall From The Stage” that reminded me of the Seattle group. I was told that Ryan Beattie, the main man behind Himalayan Bear and as it turns out a friend of said coworker, would probably not be thrilled with this comparison. This is likely due to Beattie’s distaste for the overpraised band, but after listening to the rest of the album I had to admit that my initial reactions were also off the mark.
From the psychedelic drive of “Colonial Life” to the fuzzed-out “Scent in Memory” to the 10-and-a-half minute epic “Taughtened Strand,” Beattie’s sixth full-length album reveals diverse influences. His music has often been described as melancholic, and certainly a man who sings of a “ragged bride upon the coat of a dead dog” might be expected to be a little depressive or unhinged. At their heart, though, the lyrics show a kind of idealism, a world-weary but essentially positive outlook that addresses the shittiness of humankind but recognizes the possibilities for redemption. Witness the repeated lyrics of “Taughtened Strand:” “There is no golden kingdom / nor is there pride in our civic history / so let the birds black the sky out all above / and when the money’s gone I will show you love.”
Part of Beattie’s vocal style, perhaps unsurprisingly for someone who spent time playing with Carey Mercer in Frog Eyes, switches quickly between his regular range and a quivering falsetto. But unlike with Mercer, this style never feels contrived, always tuneful and purposeful. Drum samples and synthesizers give many of the tracks an experimental vibe and a sense of layering, the most effective use of which is on album standout “Scent in Memory” – at the halfway point, a highly sampled and affected drum beat and synthesizer line kick in to give the song its drive. It’s only on the fuzzed-out “Raicilla” where the sharp and phased hi hat samples feel out of place, distracting from the incredibly catchy chorus.
Consider yourself warned, though – these tracks are earworms. Not in an insipid commercial pop radio way, but in the sense of “I need to listen to this nine times today it’s so good.” It’s the kind of album that makes one proud, however illogically, to live in the same city as the people who made it. Word has it Ditch and Cavity have restocked their vinyl copies; git on it.
Have a listen to No Golden Kingdom here.
words: Andrew Bishop
photo: Ashley W.