Talking Drunk at 2 a.m. (Self-released)

Man Bear 

Talking Drunk at 2 a.m.
(Self-released)

For three or four years there, a discouraging number of independent rock bands felt compelled to exile their hooks and melodies to the back of the track, behind layers of fuzz and hiss. Craft fell out of fashion; "artful" noise poisoned the well. Nobody seemed to have any idea what was good or what was shit, and everybody just kept congratulating each other for being DIY. It was weird — and lame. But I'm sensing a sea change lately, and I credit it, in part, to the rising influence of '90s alternative rock on young bands. The debut EP from Man Bear, a Kansas City-based three-piece, offers an energetic dose of straightforward, crunchy pop-rock, with echoes of Archers of Loaf, Dinosaur Jr. and, most obviously, Superchunk. (Singer Alex Courtney's scratchy bleat at times bears an alarming resemblance to that of Mac McCaughan.) "Shimmer," with its happily plodding bass and upbeat acoustic strum, sounds like late-era Replacements, when Paul Westerberg was curbing his punk leanings. Elsewhere, the band hews closely to established power-pop patterns (big bar chords, big buildups) but makes room for surprising diversions: a crinkly interlude before the chorus on opener "Hey (I'm on Fire)," a two-minute fade-out that hints at, but never returns to, the hook on closer "Downtown." Writing a catchy song is one thing; having a keen sense for inhabiting space is another. Not a lot of debuts have both.

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