By Paul Knettel
“Someone could have told me I was gonna be alright; I probably would’ve been fine,” sings Michael Perkins in the memorable chorus to Put In a Basket, the first track on St. Swithun’s, the debut EP from Blinded By Bears – Perkins’ stage name.
Perkins, a local Abilene musician and former lead singer of the disbanded Moroccan Victory Chant, has made a large departure from his previous work with this new project. It is a stripped-down, bare-bones recording that rarely gets more complicated than acoustic guitar and vocals; a collection of five acoustic alternative songs with tints of folk and pop. The new style, Perkins explains, came from his desire to “write songs where I sat down with a guitar and tried to be as honest as I could be with what I was saying-with not a lot between my emotions and the audience: unmasked, unfiltered me in musical form.”
After the steady guitar picking and aching intensity of the opening track, St. Swithun’s continues with The River, a less-structured piece full of folksy acoustic guitar work and dissonant chords. Perkins’ vocals take on a hint of the strained passion of Andy Hull of Manchester Orchestra, and a melodica drifts in towards the end of the song, adding a subtle richness to the piece. Next up, clocking in at just over seven minutes, is Reeds, which begins with an arpeggiating guitar pattern and vocals that have a cathedral-like reverb effect. The second half of the track consists of a repeated guitar phrase with a progression of lyrics, and although the words are well thought out and powerful, the section grows a little stale with no buildup or change in the guitar progression.
Fresh Water Gospel, the fourth and by far my favorite track, lays a foundation of simple guitar chords over which Perkins’ vocals soar with a quality so similar to Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie, it is haunting. Longing lyrics hope for a better and more meaningful life, and massive amounts of reverb give the vocals an underwater feeling. Piano chords resound throughout the piece, and the intro is reminiscent of a Jon Butler Trio jam session.
Last but not least is Crocodile, the most upbeat tune on the EP musically, despite dark lyrics like “If only I could have you and keep you alive, but I need you dead to survive.” Perkins utilizes his powerful low vocal register, sounding not unlike The National, and a folksy swing gives the tune a driving rhythm. A group vocal part in the bridge adds to the fullness of the song, with ACU students Aaron Carlile, Tanner Hadfield and Casey Oliver, all friends of Perkins, contributing to the track.
St. Swithun’s was recorded at Micah P. Hinson’s house in Abilene and gets its inspiration and name from an English folk poem.
“I liked it because it fit with a watery theme, and it said something to me about how our decisions will affect us for a long time,” Perkins sai.
Overall, this EP is a fantastic start for Blinded By Bears, and I cannot wait to see what the future has in store for this talented local singer/songwriter.
Be sure to catch Blinded By Bears in their next concert Jan. 12 at Monks Coffee Shop, and pick up a copy of St. Swithun’s EP ($5) while you’re there.