One of Cleveland's best indie-pop bands, Bears, has spent much of the time since its last album in 2008 away from music. Charlie McArthur and Craig Ramsey, who play everything you hear on their records, started doing things many guys in their twenties do: McArthur moved to Chicago for grad school; Ramsey bought a house and got busy renovating it. After a successful Kickstarter campaign yielded a little more cash from fans than they needed to make their new album, McArthur and Ramsey assembled their biggest, brightest, and best, Greater Lakes.
The album comes out on Valentine's Day, but the band — which expands to a six-piece onstage — will play a release show at the Grog Shop this weekend. "We were looking for a less low-fi sound," says McArthur. "We wanted to bring more sounds into the record and explore. It felt like we had been working with the same group of instruments and sounds for a while." (A song from their 2006 debut even ended up in a trailer for Zooey Deschanel's New Girl.)
Greater Lakes was mostly recorded long-distance. McArthur and Ramsey would send each other files with their tracks, which would include everything from bells and handclaps to guitars and harmonies. It took about three years before the album came together. "It worked out better this way, because we would go back and revise things more than we did in the past," says McArthur. "But it is frustrating when I'm excited about something and I have to wait a day or two to hear back from him."
From the sunny-day opener "Eleven a.m." to the synth-guided "From Good to Bad" to "The City Still"'s casual neighborhood stroll, Greater Lakes sounds like a candy-colored explosion that gives as much weight to Brian Wilson's wide-screen orchestral canvases as to the Shins' moody modern variation. McArthur says Bears don't have many concerts lined up — part of that has to do with the logistics of getting everyone together to learn the new songs. So this weekend's show may be one of your few opportunities to see them. "Things are up in the air right now," he says. "We're both at a place in our lives where we're trying not to focus only on music."
BREAK THE SILENCE: The Promise Hero's Bobby Vaughn recently reunited with his brother Justin for a new project, their first since their band the Honor Role broke up in 2005. The new group, Break Routine, premiered a few songs during a Grog Shop gig at Christmas, and you can download their new five-song EP, Seduce and Destroy, for free at soundcloud.com/breakroutine/sets. It sounds like an unplugged version of the Promise Hero's bedroom-confessional pop-punk: a little bit whiny and kinda catchy.
COME SEE UNCLE JOHN'S BAND: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's newest featured exhibit, Grateful Dead: The Long, Strange Trip, will be one extra-long artifact that'll take you three hours to see. The exhibit, which opens April 12 as part of the Rock Hall's induction-week events, will launch the night before with a performance by the Mickey Hart Band, led by one of the Dead's two drummers (these guys did everything in excess). In addition to the usual band memorabilia, The Long, Strange Trip will include a look at the group's devoted fan base, many of whom will be camped out selling burritos at the Rock Hall for the exhibit's eight-month duration.