It’s not a term that’s particularly used anymore, but the concept of “landfill indie” is one that could easily be brought back. The connotations are understandably anachronistic given how its primary applicants were bands like Hard-Fi or The Rakes, but there’s more than enough dross nowadays to comfortably fill a modern incarnation. Of course The Hunna have already circled themselves as prime candidates, but if there’s a band whose potential has been squandered to the extent where they could easily slip into the bargain bin of forgotten acts from only a few years ago, it’d be Eliza And The Bear. And it’s not particularly their fault that it happened, more so the regular shifting of the indie tides that decreed a Mumford & Sons wannabe could only last for so long after the summer of 2015. But if Group Therapy is designed as reputation repair to any significant capacity, with lead singles that have done nothing and a level of clout that’s evaporated as quickly as it came, Eliza And The Bear have a serious task on their hands.
But credit to them though, Group Therapy is a total re-up in sound in order to pull in that more contemporary favour, dropping the pithy folk aesthetic of their debut for tight, sleek funk-pop and a very clear pivot towards the indie sounds at the tip of the zeitgeist. They can actually do it rather well too, though it’s hard not to acknowledge how much this can feel like a band playing the game for the widest-reaching, most populist album they can imagine. That’s hardly anything new in indie, but this is an almost remarkable case where an almost total lack of detail in the writing is used to exemplify the “group therapy” notion over anything else, creating scenarios that can be easily applied to any number of listeners, but still manage to stir up some form of resonance. In some ways, Eliza And The Bear’s candour is admirable, but it can lead to an album that – like a lot of pop in this vein – has the flash and gloss but lacks a lot underneath it. It’s particularly the case with the love songs here, with tracks like First Aid and Diamond Magic having a certain youthful energy to keep them afloat but can feel a bit derivative and uninspired in the writing, or Holding You which, in terms of a more thoughtful, contemplative side of James Kellegher, is decent enough, but again, lacks a lot of lyrical flavour that could take it higher. The only real exception is Winter In New York which at least feels a bit more evocative in its imagery, but overall the writing on Group Therapy is where the biggest hit is taken, lacking a lot of the colour that could really benefit a more exuberant sound like this.
Conversely, it’s that sonic overhaul that sees Group Therapy shine the brightest, not only by hitting a noticeably catchier watermark than anything on their debut, but actually capturing a sense of groove and fluidity that’s not as easy to pull off as it looks. Everything has been tightened and polished exponentially, from the indie gang vocals paired with the sinuous bass of Real Friends to the shiny disco-pop of I Wanna Feel It and Higher that’s replete with all the horns and handclaps deemed necessary for a couple of genuinely potent earworms. It’s one of those situations where the infectiousness and drive manages to overshadow some of the more glaring issues this album has; yes, the production can feel a bit flat at times, and yes, the momentum is well and truly sliced to ribbons in the final act, but the sense of groove and strut has been captured by Eliza And The Bear more effectively than pretty much any other indie band who’s tried something like this. There are moments of real greatness on an instrumental level (even if most of that comes from a total override of critical faculties), and Group Therapy deserves a lot of praise for it.
That’s not to say that Eliza And The Bear are suddenly an essential act within modern indie, because they’re still far from it. They still lack a consistency to shine brighter and the constant verve in every aspect of their sound to hit those higher marks, but Group Therapy is a convincing vault out of irrelevance and into something that could prove more fruitful for them going forward. The benefits seen from such a significant reinvention are apparant, and if this is something they can keep up, the “landfill indie” tag can potentially be shaken off for good.
For fans of: Fickle Friends, Coasts, The Aces
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Group Therapy’ by Eliza And The Bear is out now on Be-Known Records.