The Ultimate Bearhug
Just South of Los Angeles
It has to be said that Santa Ana's the Ultimate Bearhug are pretty much spot on with that album title of theirs -- or at least near to it (if you want to be technical, more like southeast). But the duo of Barrett Johnson and Doll Knight are just as clearly referencing OC's eternal standing-in-the-shadows status as much as setting the location in the title song of their debut release, a subject which nearly every band in the area has to deal with, for all the successes that have come out of the place still. You couldn't blame them if they sounded a bit frustrated.
But they don't -- not that they're not immune to the feeling, as Knight demonstrates on a great moment in "Foolish Things" when she punctuates her narrative with the line "Called you at three am; finally picked up, I said 'Fuck being friends!'" Those moments of the band's sudden emotional revelation that are among the strongest on Just South of Los Angeles.
Musically, the Ultimate Bearhug are exhibit the kind of winsome, vaudeville folk pop that seems like it's another phase of steampunk as much as it is something that could end up on Merge Records. Arrangements happily rely on swirling accordion lines and drums that are crisply hit and brushed rather than pounded. But for all their airy softness, the success behind their emotive, folk sound appears to be the product of old-fashioned hard work.
You can download their entire album over at their website -- so why not go?