Review Summary: OUT: The Bear… IN: The Bearess.
Music history has been littered with bands that, for one reason or another, have changed their lead vocalist. Some replacements work out well (Iron Maiden), some divide opinion (AC/DC, Van Halen), while others are unmitigated disasters (INXS). There hasn’t been too many cases, however, where the new vocalist’s sex is different to that of the originals; which is exactly what has occurred with divisive Buffalo post-hardcore act The Bunny The Bear. While the screams and growls of Matthew Tybor’s bunny persona remain intact, clean vocalist Chris “The Bear” Hutka has been replaced by young Rochester singer Haley Roback. And if the prolific moniker’s sixth LP ‘A Liar Wrote This’ is anything to go by, then it’s an evolution for the better.
Knowing full well that the addition of a female vocalist would naturally change the band’s dynamic, The Bunny The Bear (under Tybor’s command) have also taken the opportunity to refine their previously messy genre-bending. The electronic aspects of their sound have been dialled down and integrated more purposefully, while songwriting maturity has resulted in tracks feeling more complete, rather than just a collection of catchy passages taped together. There is still work to do though, especially musically. Having gone through multiple backing musicians over the years, producer Doug White plays it too modestly here, often relegating his own guitar and bass-lines to the background. Meanwhile, studio drummer Matthew McGinley is proficient, if not a great deal more. In the circumstances, however, it is understandable that perfecting the vocal dynamic should take priority.
So, what of young Roback" Well, her vocals definitely display promise. Both the power and range of her voice are impressive, while she also fits the post-hardcore style well enough. She does, however, occasionally remind of a reality television show contestant in her want to over-sing every single sentence as if it’s the most important hook ever. Just as interesting is the gradual transformation of Tybor. While his anguished screams and growls will continue to polarize, they have undoubtedly improved and don’t grate as much as in the past. Meanwhile, he occasionally integrates clean vocals that effectively ground the verses of some tunes; a necessity predominantly brought about by Roback’s involvement.
In a sense, the recruitment of Haley Roback has given rise to a brand new band that is still seeking a true identity. And, for this reason, the most impressive factor concerning ‘A Liar Wrote This’ is the way in which The Bunny The Bear navigate through these thirteen tracks in search of their best-fitting sound. It results in an album that may not include a home run hit, but contains a consistency that the outfit has hitherto failed to deliver. Furthermore, it brings a welcome diversity that feels far more focused than any haphazard experiments from the past. The strong mid-section alone carries the schizophrenic ‘Oblivion’, the restrained reimagining of ‘It’s Not Always Cold in Buffalo’, the atmospheric ‘Sleep Sequence’ and infectious highlight ‘Somewhat Standards’. Even the LP’s two ballads display variety, with ‘Empty Hands’ being piano-driven and the especially impressive ‘Dead Leaves’ relying on acoustic guitar.
Come to think of it, female-fronted post-hardcore is in itself a rare commodity, with only Eyes Set to Kill and Picture Me Broken currently coming to mind. In that sense, The Bunny The Bear might not only have prolonged their career with this change of vocalist, but could now foreseeably amount to a band of some influence. Who would ever have thought that!"
Recommended Tracks: Somewhat Standards, It’s Not Always Cold in Buffalo (Revisited), Sleep Sequence & Lover’s Touch.