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Bears in Trees Drop Album of The Year With “How To Build an Ocean: Instructions”

Ahead of their UK/EU tour starting this week, I’ve sat down and listened to Bears in Trees’ new album. And safe to say, it’s easily their best one yet.

The cover art for How to Build an Ocean: Instructions
Spotify / Bears in Trees

A slot at one of the UK’s most famous festivals. Featured on the cover of Rocksound. The release of three of their most acclaimed singles so far. 2024 is very rapidly proving itself to be the year of Bears in Trees, made up of guitarist Nick Peters, drummer George Berry, vocalist/keys/uke player Callum Litchfield and bassist and vocalist Iain Gillespie.

Set to release their second debut studio album later this month, Bears in Trees is a band that encompasses everything that was best about the early noughties era of emo-pop, combining the lyrical miseries of Fall Out Boy with the appearance and sound of the best band of our age: One Direction.

If that’s not a promising introduction, then I don’t know what is.

How to Build an Ocean: Instructions

How to Build an Ocean: Instructions is, in short, a masterpiece. What can I say, the South-London-born and bred band have done it again. And by done it again, I mean composed an album that’s going to make everyone cry and then get up and shake their ass and then sit back down and cry again.

The album’s title is taken from Olga Tokarcuz’s novel Flights, an astonishing novel that covers the whole scope of the human race through the lens of travel. It’s about identity and mapping; mapping of the self and the future. The album deals with all of this, as well as crisis of self (a common theme for their discography) and detachment and connections, amongst a whole host of other things.

It’s deeply hopeful, achingly melancholic (but not in a sordid fashion) and with the tinge of modern nostalgia that has consistently worked to set Bears in Trees aside from the rest of the scene. Influences from bands such as The Front Bottoms are evident within their sound, and the lyrics are beautifully poetic in a way that makes you smile and want to weep at exactly the same time. Gloriously addictive. It’s so human. It’s pop punk executed properly (with no assholes involved in the process either! A win for the scene for sure).

The band Bears in Trees, photographed with flowers against a bright blue sky.
Bears in Trees – from left to right, Nick Peters (he/him), Iain Gillespie (they/them), Callum Litchfield (he/him) and George Berry (he/him) Credit: @chazzadnitt

Your Favourite Coat

The album opens with ‘Your Favourite Coat’: a masterwork that highlights everything that’s best about the genre. With sick guitars and trumpets, it has one of my favourite opening lines for an album ever – “Can everyone just be quiet for a second?” Dealing with the impacts of being recognisable figures, it was co-written by Peters and Gillespie. It’s a conversation about being unready to be in this position, and yet, to someone who has never experienced it, I still felt it. Viscerally.

I Can’t See Anything I Don’t Like About You

The first time I heard this song, it was not at Wigan North West train station with my dying AirPods like I heard the rest of the album. No, it was actually outside London’s famous Alexandra Palace in February 2022, hunched over a shitty iPhone speaker, trying to make out the words of the chorus and waiting for the big red bus to drag us back down to the tube station.

It still blows me away just the same.

The juxtaposition of writing songs making reference to Scott Pilgrim vs the world and Albert Camus in the same album would be messy and just plain nonsensical if done by anyone else. But because it’s Bears in Trees, it. Just. Works.

The chorus is boppy and the concept of the song is so uniquely brilliant that I am tipping my hypothetical hat to them. (Yes, hypothetical. Me? Wearing a hat? Who do you think I am?) Nick describes this song as being about “not being able to define yourself outside of pop culture”, writing that “When you’re younger, it’s generally pretty socially acceptable to describe yourself in relation to pop culture figures (‘I wanna be as fast as sonic!’). As you grow up, it becomes less and less acceptable to build your sense of personality in this way.”

I recently spoke to Bears in Trees about growing up on the internet and the impact of social media on the music industry, and I’m reminded of the conversation we had whilst listening to this song. Because yes. I am Joel post-memory reset! I am Clementine with hazel hair! The layers of referencing done in this track are impressive, from Wirt (Over the Garden Wall) to Dante’s Inferno and even a sly reference to The Front Bottoms in the first verse, it’s one that’ll have you pointing at the screen and going “oh! I know that one!” I’m putting my bets on it being a fan favourite to be played live.

All You Get Is Confetti / Tai Chi With My Dad

And then they slow it right down with a devastating duo. ‘All you get is confetti’ and ‘Tai Chi with my dad’ are stunning.

Confetti begins with the gentle plucking of an acoustic guitar before getting straight to the point – “I don’t feel purpose anymore.” Man. What a fucking opening line that is.

Like Pavlov’s dog with the bell, every Bears in Trees fan has grown to fear the acoustic guitar. Emotionally ruining single ‘Ramblings of a Lunatic’ is the band’s most popular song to date, with over 10 million streams on Spotify at the time of writing. And for good reason! You should fear the guitar.

Juxtaposing the sweeping orchestral tones featured in ‘Injured Crow’ (IJ needs to be on the setlist… NOW!), Confetti is soft and confessional, a clear standout in and amongst the more pop-punk tunes. “I feel a need to be absolutely everything to everyone. Recently, I’ve been trying to be just one good thing to someone.” Writes Peters. Tissues will be needed. Be warned.

Bears in Trees in a field of flowers. Peters has a flower between his teeth and everyone is grinning.
Credit: @Chazzadnitts

Nothing Cures Melancholy Like Looking at Maps / We Don’t Speak Anymore / I Don’t Wanna be Angry

For me, the definite highlight of the album comes with the devastatingly beautiful final three track run. ‘Nothing Cures Melancholy Like Looking at Maps’ (cheers Bears in Trees that is soooo fun to write out) into ‘We Don’t Speak Anymore’ into ‘I Don’t Wanna Be Angry’.

Let me break it down:

Melancholy is about Peters’ childhood, about Croydon and railway lines and about a brick being thrown through his window. It’s about cycling and messy childhoods and reconciling personal past histories.

“My family used to live in a council house. We got bricks
thrown through our window because my mum was an
Irish immigrant and my dad was a Pakistani
immigrant. Just before I was born, my family was able
to move to a much safer part of London. I largely
missed the racism my family faced growing up, and
was afforded a lot of freedom as a result.”
(Nick Peters)

The first verse is one of my favourites of the album, from the funky repititions to the honest lyricism depicting the aforementioned. It reminds me vividly of my own childhood, and with the title being from Tokarcuz’s novel, the mapping of human histories is made a fascinating central motif that is expanded upon in a way that makes the subject matter emotional and the music behind it exciting and fresh.

And then it goes into the soft sadness of ‘We Don’t Speak Anymore’, the final single. Need I say anymore? A song about childhood and growing up into a song about how you don’t speak to your friends anymore? Screaming pissing crying shitting, etc.

And, to round it all off, ‘I Don’t Wanna Be Angry’.

‘I Don’t Wanna Be Angry’ is, in short, breathtaking. When the album finishes, I put this song on again. And again. And again.

With a sweeping, beautiful chorus, the last track of the album powerfully conveys its overall message. It’s like a TLDR for Bears in Trees’ discography as a whole. With references to Greek mythology and an extremely lovable first verse, it very rapidly cemented itself as my favourite of theirs. It’s like smashing together Olivia Rodrigo’s sound with the lyrical brilliance of Folklore.

And the BRIDGE?!

Not to be dramatic, but the bridge makes me feel complete. This whole album makes me feel complete. God, I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life for this.

Conclusion

The thing is, I’ve been trying to pin down exactly what this album is. Because, yes, it sounds like Two Door Cinema Club and Cavetown had a delightful child. And yes, it sounds like an album of Infinity on High bonus tracks. But nothing I’ve been thinking of quite sums it up in the way I feel it deserves.

But that’s because this album is so special because it is so succintly Bears in Trees. This album is their best work yet, utilising the best parts of all their projects so far. I hear 2020’s I Want to Feel Chaotic in this, just as much as I still hear the same band that wrote 2017’s Just Five More Minutes. This is the new soundtrack for your summer. For your winter. Hell, for your entire adolescence. I’m not being dramatic when I say this should be the album of the year.

I could write ten thousand words on this. I’ve not even covered ‘Henry Says’, a love letter to buses and old friends (and TfL, GOD I love TfL), or the magic that is ‘Injured Crow’. If you pay attention to one thing that I write, make sure it’s this. You will not regret it.

How to Build an Ocean: Instructions is out April 26th via I Sure Hope It Does. Many thanks to Bears in Trees for sending me the album ahead of release.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Sue Barwise

    April 22, 2024 at 1:08 pm

    Another excellent review, well done Holly x

  2. Lauren Betteridge

    April 22, 2024 at 7:01 pm

    your review literally gave me CHILLS i cannot wait to hear this album. feel like my heart will break and then they will fix it with a dance… just to shatter me into pieces again

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