I came much too late to the Bear Vs. Shark party. My musical tastes were much more oriented around Christian metalcore around the time that Terrorhawk was released but I do distinctly remember seeing banner ads for that record as I would trawl Purevolume for new music. I think not much later I would see ads for 30 Seconds to Mars or something like that and for at least a few years after I would always associate BVS with that scene despite the band having very little in common with that mid-00s post-hardcore. It would be some time before I would finally take a chance, thanks to a young Irishman I encountered on a small messageboard that I ran in my late teens(one of my first social media ventures) and though it would still be some time before those two records would totally engulf me; the seed was planted in good soil that time.
So, Johnny-come-lately as I have been–not just with BVS but with many great bands–I can safely say that I got in very early with Bars of Gold; the new vehicle for Marc Paffi and Brandon Moss, vocalist and drummer respectively. From the first live recordings to their debut LP of Gold, the Wildcatting-plus one Detroit based group have enamored me. Much like Bear Vs. Shark they have managed to consistently warp frantic rhythm, messy leads, and howling vocals into superbly catchy, lyrically mystifying yet emotional satisfying bundle. Right around two o’clock this afternoon my only aim for later that evening was to plunge head first into one of my most anticipated records of the year.
“Hey Kids” sets the mood by stitching together the calm, coolness of any great 90s indie band(take your pick) and Marc Paffi’s trademark, hoarse baritone which sails along smoothly up to a swimmy “Once in a Lifetime” bridge that gloriously explodes. “Connected” gives us a shot of driving, four on the floor dancey, soulful punk with a strong bass pulse and clean to moderately overdriven guitars that are all accented with angelic backing vocals and electric organ. The first single from the record, “Coffee With Pele”, lunges out fast and offers itself as one of the more formidably catchy tracks on Wheels and to my ears it sounds a hell of a lot like Fugazi circa ’90-’93. Bars of Gold have made a point of bringing folksy or otherwise un-punk instruments and elements into their sound and weaving them together in fantastically gritty ways but “Needle” manages to break even their own very loose formula with a laid back, eerie surfy track like “Ghost Town” by The Specials or anything by The Cramps for that matter. “Blue Lightning” is one of two songs that predates the record itself as it was performed along with “Tree Fort” in a special live video of the band performing in a Hot Dog shop and both are just as good on the record as they are live. “Monical” delivers the amped up, crazier post-hardcore rush that you would expect if you came upon this record based on their Bear Vs. Shark legacy; their potency not limited by the years since. Yet it is the dynamic, mature yet still energetic, “Part 2” and the previously mentioned “Tree Fort” that hit the mark for me much in the way “Cannibal” did on their first outing.
Bars of Gold are possibly at their most refined on the Springsteen inspired “22180” and once again I am beside myself in awe at their ability. The demand for a hushed stillness carries into the album closer “Hey Neighbor” which brings a clever thematic end to the record with its echoing of the opener and the cyclical image of the record’s title. Small, mundane details are expounded on and give rise to emotional significance all through the lyrics I have been able to decipher. Real life, day to day woes and joys are exceptionally paired with more metaphorical word work. Wheels seems to bring every thing we could expect from the Michigan five-piece under its roof, from insightful indie rock akin to The Weakerthans to wiry, snaking Q and Not U parts and marvelous and unbridled pace and tone of the MC5. I may have missed the boat on Bear Vs. Shark but I have found great joy in my diligent station, watching this new ship come in; a spectacle you would be a fool to miss.