Release Date: June 7th 2018
Misha Bear is an ambitious solo artist based in Melbourne, Australia. After several years playing in various different ensembles, Bear chose to embark on a solo career, releasing material under her own name. After testing the waters with the ‘Mouche’ EP in 2014, Bear went on to compose over a hundred songs in the succeeding four years. In 2018, she decided to re-enter the studio to record eight of her favourite songs she’d written to make up her first full-length album. The resulting product, ‘Ladybug’, was tracked in various home studios and showcases an unbelievably versatile and talented musician with a huge amount of potential.
Jangly acoustic guitars and a melodic bassline optimistically kick off the soft-rock influenced opening track ‘Matter of Opinion’. From the first few bars, Bear’s two best selling points become overtly apparent; her singing voice and her emphasis on melody. Her singing voice is full-bodied, powerful and one you’d certainly recognise if you heard it again. Her voice has a strong resemblance to June Carter Cash and has a genuine storytelling quality about it. She tends to focus strongly on diatonic melodies in both her vocal and bass parts, making the material incredibly catchy and memorable. Particular praise goes to guitarist Craig Cumming’s excellently-arranged guitar work on this track; the acoustic and clean guitars in the verses are light-bodied and jangly in nature, before being contrasted with a grunge-infuenced electric guitar tone in the chorus. This shows a well-thought out approach to the arrangement and keeps us on our toes throughout the track.
‘Terrified’ features a wide range of influences, from renaissance folk to grunge. Particularly notable on this track was the rock organ synth drones provided throughout the verses. This effectively pads out the arrangement and sits well with the grunge-influenced guitar tones without muddying things up. My attention turns to Bear’s use of backing vocals across the album, which is absolutely fantastic. The introduction of a rich backing vocal section in many of her choruses is consistently well-executed and undoubtedly a signature trait of hers. However, with an all-male backing band, I begin to wonder how it would best work in a live setting. As the female backing vocal sections suit the material so well and are such a signature aspect of her sound, I would encourage Bear to make use of either backing tracks or female performers in a live setting to best replicate this aspect of her sound.
‘When I Come’ features arguably one of the catchiest stadium-ready hooks on the entire album. Once again, the rock organ drones pad out the arrangement very effectively and would be something I’d most certainly encourage Bear to continue to make use of throughout her material. Additionally, it’s notable that whilst many of her songs are set in a minor key and deal with serious topics, they each have a distinctly optimistic and jovial vibe about them. This is something I’d very much encourage her to place at the forefront of her marketing as it’s something many artists really struggle to strike the balance with.
‘9 Years’ is intimately driven by piano and string synths. I thought the more stripped back arrangement on the track effectively mirrored the delicate and vulnerable nature of the lyrics, which focus on loss and grief. Bear makes use of her chest voice when the arrangement is busy, before transitioning to her head voice once the arrangement becomes sparser. This shows phenomenal attention to detail arrangement-wise and the transitions are brilliantly executed. Praise also goes to drummer Matthew Jonath for an effective and interesting drum part; he makes use of a funeral march rhythm during the verses, which effectively mirrors the more somber nature of the lyrical content. His fills between sections are also very accomplished, effortlessly carrying the band from section to section without being overbearing.
‘The Blame’ is an upbeat track based around an ostinato-like bass riff, which really holds the band together and gives the track real substance and feel. Much like many of the other tracks, it features a huge hook backed by a decently-sized backing vocal section. This shows that whilst Bear dabbles in a few different genres across the album, she has a solid grasp on what is set to be an incredibly convincing sonic identity. She certainly knows her signature traits and consistently plays to her strengths on every track. I’m undoubtedly looking forward to seeing how she chooses to refine her genre and further pursue her sonic identity across her next few releases. ‘Catch Me’ takes advantage of some fantastic blues and jazz influences which really suit Bear’s voice and storytelling lyrical qualities. Much like the ballad style explored on ‘9 years’, this is something I’d strongly encourage Bear to further pursue as it showcases the very best of her talents. The track is interspersed with various guitar solo sections, which are again fantastically crafted and melodically sound.
‘Paranoia’ deals with the concept of being under the grasp of a moment of paranoia. The Latin-influenced march feel of the track adds a repetitive and slightly comical feel, which fantastically represents the self-questioning nature of the lyrics. Bear once again makes use of her bassline to hold the band together and carry the ‘oom-pah’ rhythm the track is based around, allowing the vocal track to sail atop the mix. At this point, my attention turns to the album’s production, which is overall fantastic. Considering the project was recorded across various home studios with low-budget equipment, the recording quality is outstanding and the mixing and mastering is very professional. All frequencies and levels are well-balanced and the album has a consistent overall feel. This should stand as an example that expensive equipment or facilities rarely trump dedication, attention to detail and sheer willpower.
‘Pretty Good Lot’ confidently brings the lyrical content explored through the album full circle. Whilst Bear explores topics of grief, heartbreak and mental illness throughout the album, she concludes on an optimistic note perfectly in line with her sound. This once again shows her fantastic attention to detail and positive outlook on the more negative aspects of life. Overall, ‘Ladybug’ is a very strong album and a pleasure to listen to from start to finish. Bear certainly knows her strengths and plays to them with everything she has. Whilst she explores several different genres throughout the album, she has a clearly defined set of signature traits that will only develop further over her next few releases. Thoroughly recommended for any fans of folk, soft rock, alternative and acoustic.