Although The 2 Bears, the cheeky London duo of Raf Rundell and Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard, often do press, videos and performances in pink-mouthed bear suits, like plush escapees from Anthrocon, the Winnie-the-Pooh schtick doesn’t mean the duo’s playful debut, Be Strong, is mere folderol. Be Strong is a deadly serious – and seriously good – dance album.
While it may or may not be helpful to know that their moniker can also point to a gay subculture that celebrates more ursine-looking geezers, Rundell and Goddard, who actually found their bear suits online, have a far-ranging appeal that reaches both mainstream listeners and discerning ravers. From track to track, listening to Be Strong is like rifling through someone’s fantastically offbeat record collection. Slipping smoothly from the sweat-soaked, piano-convulsed ‘Work’ to the space-age-disco-ska of ‘Heart Of The Congos’, the album shifts blissfully from sleek lounge (‘The Birds & The Bees’) to dance floor make-outs (‘Bear Hug’) to glorious, day-is-dawning Calypso-infused hymns (‘Church’). Irreverent samples and gleeful shout-outs scuttle about, like the KLF-to-Timbaland laundry list anchoring the music-obsessed ‘Be Strong’. In fact, guessing The 2 Bears’ influences and muso-mazes quickly becomes sport: is that a slight nod to Altered Images’ ‘Love To Stay’ shimmying underneath ‘The Birds & The Bees’? Or the electro-pulse of Underworld’s ‘Cowgirl’ setting off ‘Take A Look Around’? Thanks to Rundell’s dry, blokey recitation, the quirky lap steel lope of ‘Time in Mind’, vaguely recalls Bill Wyman’s 1981 Mockney goof ‘Je Suis Un Rockstar’, before it dissolves down a corridor of pealing church bells into the cryptic fever dream of ‘Faith’.
Rundell, a former record label press officer, and Goddard (who, according to Rundell, were nearly a trio with Metronomy’s Joseph Mount), honed their musical partnership via avenues like their Ministry of Sound radio show and at Greco-Roman Soundsystem gigs. They effortlessly flip vocals throughout Be Strong (with additional input from Mara Carlyle and Alice Gold) and the result, on songs like ‘Work’, is an easy, vivacious mix of Goddard’s boyish warmth and Rundell’s grittier bite, musing over down-to-earth worries like the recession. This is a London album — irreverent, sophisticated and smart with unexpected detours down dark alleys — and a confident debut from two hirsute pals and avid record collectors who are having a pretty fine time celebrating the music that makes them happy.