This article was originally published in Monday Magazine.
Ryan Beattie has made a career of contemplating darkness. His first foray into the night came with Chet– the band’s masterful, Chelsea Silver, Please Come Home, picked up where 2007’s Fight Against the Darkness left off, offering thoughtful accounts of literal and psychological darkness from a myriad of compelling voices. Now under the Himalayan Bear moniker, Beattie continues to probe the meaning of darkness and light with his new album, Hard Times. His timing couldn’t be better: the album is the perfect soundtrack for a long, dark Victorian winter.
Hard Times begins with the title track, a reverb drenched account of a lover who abandons his beloved for another (namely, a bottle) for the summer, all the while assuring her that he will be back when his bottle runs dry and the “gloom of the autumn dusk begins”. While the speaker is hardly likeable, his desperation, perfectly channeled by Beattie’s powerful and evocative croon, coupled with his repeated promise to “come crawlin’ back” somehow manages to win us over; we forgive him, albeit reluctantly.
The speaker in the album’s opening track is an excellent representative of the type of characters who populate Hard Times. Here we meet drunks who fall twice in a night only to be scoffed at by their friends, halfwit sons who leave this world as quickly and mysteriously as they entered it, and unrequited lovers who look forward to a “ruinous night” for a chance to dream of holding the object of their affection. Beattie’s characters sing, weep and die in front of an omnipresent backdrop of darkness and flickering light. Sometimes darkness brings people together; sometimes it violently tears them apart.
Hard Times is clearly the work of a songwriter at the peak of his powers. At once playful and tragic, the album presents us with a sophisticated rendering of darkness, refusing to simplify it. Beattie has embraced ambivalence, and with this beautiful gift of an album, he invites us to join him in contemplating winter’s impending shadow.