I believe Pam the Bear is a new band hailing from Appleton Wisconsin. A link to their new album was posted on the Wisconsin Ska Group on Facebook. Other than this they have no other web presence. Let’s give their self-titled debut a little listen, shall we?
1. “Let’s Go!”- This one starts out with some nice horns with a traditional upbeat ska feel. The horns are a bit muffled, as I suspect there is a saxophone in the band (this often takes away from the blaring of a trombone or trumpet). I also like the backing vocals. Overall, this is a nice start
to the album. Grade: B
2. “Foul Weather Friends”-Great harmonization as well as keyboard parts on this song. I also like how the band changes from a ska sound to other musical types within the same song. Overall this tune sounds like pieces of several other songs I have heard. I dig it Grade: B
3. “Weather”- This starts out like the kind of song you would listen to while sipping iced tea on your back porch. Overall, I enjoy the twangy guitar (or banjo?) but the lyrics don’t always seem to meld with the music. I also thought that the group part near the end added to the overall feel. Grade: C
4. “Crawlin’”-Nice job at creating a dark, creepy sensation to the listener. This one starts quickly switches from slower to faster tempos. There is also a nice instrumental part around the half-way mark. All in all, I like this song, but I almost wish the lead singer hand more of a raspier, more powerful voice to match the motif of this song. Grade: B+
5. “Try, Try (Try)”- Oooh, I dig the banjo that starts this one off. The saxophone is used more effectively in this one (by itself) vs. other songs. While there are not of ton of words to this song, the music definitely makes up for it. Grade: B+
6. “Hopeless, Helpless”- This song, much like “Foul Weather Friends” features nice harmonization by male and female vocalists. A slow-skankin’ song. Grade: C
7. “Blame”- This is one has a funky feel created not only by the guitar line as well as the horn parts. The horns could be a little bit more in your face. Pam (the Bear) does a nice job of “picking it up” at the 2 minute mark. This is an easy contender for best song on the album. Grade: B+
8. “Bubbles, Bears and Elephants”- This is not really a ska song per se, but it does have many musical styles all wrapped in one. It kind of has a mystical feel to it. Also, the song is way too long. It repeats itself several times for a total running time of 6:44. To be completely honest, I’m just not feeling this one. Grade: D
9. “Crawlin (acoustic)”-Normally, I’m not a huge fan of having various versions of the same song on the same album, but I will give Pam the Bear on pass on this issue. I really like the whistling in this one. Although this works as an acoustic number, it is neither bettor nor worse than the original. Grade B+
10. “Let’s Go! (acoustic)”-Not only is this acoustic, it also has a bluegrass feel to it. I feel the same way about this as the acoustic version of “Crawlin’;” it is a nice change, but does not necessarily make it better or worse. Grade: B
First of all I was very excited to have discovered this on my Facebook feed. It is always great to hear of new bands in the genre and what they are up to. I must say that when critiquing this album, I was not as harsh as I probably could have been. I felt it would be unfair to hold them to the same standards as other ska bands that have been around for several years, and have recorded several studio-quality albums. Pam the Bear appears to be a band of college kids and this album seems to be a DIY project (we all have to start somewhere right)? For this reason, I went a little easy on some of my grading.
For a new band, I really enjoyed how every song sounds distinctively different. A trap that some new bands to a genre get fall into is making every song sound exactly the same. I also really enjoyed the non-traditional instrumentation of banjo (and others possibly).
Now for the bad news. The first point I only mention for the sake of being complete, not as a critique. This album does not have the same sound quality as most albums. This was probably self-recorded, but as a new band (probably on a budget), this is the way to go. It is far too expensive to save up enough money to rent studio time. It is more important, in my opinion, to get your material out there, to start creating a name for yourself. My only critique however, is that both the horns and the vocalist seem to be lacking passion/excitement. While everyone sounds like they are hitting the appropriate notes, the overall feeling feels a bit flat. Despite my previous point, this is a nice start for an aspiring ska band. I can’t wait to see what Pam the Bear has in store for the future