The relevant loneliness that pervades many of the songs on Fighting With Bears first full-length record Asleep Under the Sea is hard earned. Fighting With Bears is actually the solo moniker for Montreal’s Ryan McNabb, who recorded this album alone during the early winter of 2014 in the basement of his family’s cabin in northern Canada, and the desolation and isolation of a long cold winter has its affects all over Asleep Under the Sea. The instrumentation is at times subtly gorgeous with violins and piano adding to the feeling of isolation.
The opening track “Breath Alone” is a beautiful blend of tinny and poppy guitar riffs and violins which come in during the chorus and really help to give the song a dynamic that it would not have had otherwise. Though the fun quickly subsides on the wrist cutting “Fire Starter” on which McNabb’s vocals are so hauntingly sad it seems as though at any moment he may burst into tears. The sadness continues into the title track “Asleep Under the Sea” but in a much more beautiful way. Here strings are layered over minimalist piano keys as McNabb quietly laments mixed metaphors of drowning at sea to a loss of love. It is by far the album’s most beautiful track.
Then “High Tide” comes in, marking a momentary musical shift, as the track opens with drum machine beats and melodic synths. McNabb’s voice changes on this track too, as he tries a bit of falsetto, instead of the mild baritone that lent to the beauty of the earlier songs.
“High Tide” comes off sounding like a bad karaoke performance and sounds completely out of place on the record. The next two tunes feel like filler, and then comes the semi rock out of “Save You,” which despite its best attempt to come off as a serious song sounds somehow unfinished with McNabb’s now snarly sounding vocals louder at times than the guitar and drums, a sign that McNabb may have a bit of a crush on himself. However McNabb comes to his own rescue on the handsomely poppy “Siren Song.” The album closes quietly with “Second Floor” an acoustic ballad on which McNabb ties the albums sea themes together.
Asleep Under the Sea is a valiant effort for a first full length and it leads one to wonder what McNabb would be capable of doing with a backing band and little warmer weather.
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