Record Review: Bear Vs. Shark

This story was published June 7, 2005, during an internship at

Rougher, tougher rock music has become popular in the mainstream setting; in recent years, the genre has picked up more followers and a lot more bands to follow. Naturally, this means that music critics are creating new categories to classify the music genre. I’d like to mention that none of these categories are helpful in the least.

When I enter a record store, I am bombarded by classifications. Emo! Screamo! Hardcore, grindcore! Pop-punk, post-punk! Post-hardcore, post-metalcore, post-emocore. If I’m not careful, soon I’ll be a post-writer.

You would think that more labels would make it easier to classify types of music, but you’d be mistaken. There are bands that just can’t be placed into a category, no matter how many options there are. One such group is the Michigan-based quintet, Bear vs. Shark .

The only accurate way to describe Bear vs. Shark is to play the “sounds like” game (Brace yourselves, boys and girls: you’re about to be band-barded). Bear vs. Shark has inherited Metallica -esque thick and noisy guitarwork, At the Drive-In ‘s frantic pacing and Cursive ‘s emotional vocal style. Singer Marc Paffi sounds remarkably like a blend of Tim Kasher (of Cursive fame and The Good Life notoriety) and Piebald ‘s Travis Shettel. He manages to avoid any traces of nasality, especially in the transition from screaming to singing. This tactic immediately removes BvS from the company of other popular rock bands like Coheed and Cambria , Thursday and Hawthorne Heights . Terrorhawk , which will be released on June 14th, is the band’s second album. Their first, titled Right Now You’re in the Best of Hands. And if Something Isn’t Quite Right, Your Doctor Will Know in a Hurry , was released in 2003. It didn’t have much impact on audiences outside Ann Arbor, but I think the new record will.

What makes Terrorhawk noteworthy is how the sound varies from song to song. “Baraga Embankment” features trombone and baritone sax, not to mention the guitars and piano found in typical BvS songs. The track sounds like early Son, Ambulance – from back in the days when Bright Eyes ‘ Conor Oberst was rooming with the band and every song they wrote had bare-faced vocals, keyboards and lots of snare drum.

The catchy, bouncy bassline on “Entrance of the Elected” meshes perfectly with the searing emotional vocals; this song is a perfect example of minimalism working to enhance a piece of music.

There are a few unlucky tracks on the album – the 13th, for example. Called “Heard Iron Bug, ‘They’re Coming to Town,'” it offers little more than a distraction from the record’s better products. After a minute and a half of juxtaposed screaming and spoken lyrics, some semblance of a melody filters through the disorienting guitar, but it’s not enough to save the song.

Taken as a whole, the album sounds like it was made by a young band. BvS is a little unrefined, a little inexperienced, a little rough around the edges. But they have more than a little promise. What makes this band special is that they accept their rawness and don’t try to cover it up. Thus, the music has a rare sense of comfort and honesty. Ultimately, Bear vs. Shark is a band that embraces their music, however people classify it.

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