REVIEW: CHINA BEARS – PARTICIPATION TROPHY (2024)

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China Bears formed in Somerset by twin brothers Ivan Proctor (vocals, guitar) and Frazer Proctor (lead guitar) and was completed after meeting James Zealy (bass) and Dean McCaw (drums) at university in Guildford. Their debut album `Participation Trophy` is released this month and speaking of the release, lead singer Ivan said `Participation Trophy`, at its core, is about hope, loss, grief, friendships, relationships and overcoming feelings of inadequacy.

`To Pull You Back` opens the release and it`s a fairly melancholic offering which appears to be about coping after a relationship breakup. There`s a deep aching resonance in the vocals shared that mirror the pain felt. A trumpet joins towards the final third adding a further poignant echo. We have a more upbeat submission in

`Easy Kill` which the singer has shared is a song about “the initial hesitance that sometimes comes when letting others in, but ultimately celebrating vulnerability and being truly open around the people you care about.” A relatively positive track with vocals that still seem to express a little trepidation.

`I Will Break My Own Heart` is a wavering number that expresses joy in a potential new relationship, but self-doubt overwhelms the participant into perceiving that it will only end in despair. There`s a dreaminess to `Beck and Call` which relates to a what seems to be a one-sided romance.

I read that `North Star` was a cathartic process for the writer and shared that it was “initially a song about dealing with grief and loss, it transcended into hope and following your heart.” A track with many layers including keys and a solitary trumpet segment in the latter part. The North Star is a symbol of direction, guidance, stability, and purpose. We have an intensive ballad like number in `I Always Wish You Were Here (With Me)` which has a guiding drum beat, shimmering chords and a pulsing synth / key tone throughout.

`Total Communication Breakdown` is really what it says on the tin and the singer relates that “This song really magnifies the moments of isolation you go through during the initial stages of separation with someone, fighting every urge to not reach out to them, but also coming to terms with them not reaching out to you.” A quite anthemic composition that i`m sure with be a real crowd pleaser. In `Blue Eyes` we have a simple but effective number that alludes to a couple trying to reconcile their differences.

`Gracie` is a thank you to friends who have stood by the singer in difficult times. A gentle and unassuming number that really hits home. There`s a starkness to `In Good Timing` another reminiscence of loss which kind of gathers strength as it evolves.

`Sunday` is another gentle ballad like piece that touches on moving away from home for the first time. We have a fairly rhythmic arrangement with `Wasting My Life` which may well be a realisation that changes have to be made to ensure that life does not pass you by.

The album closes with title track `Participation Trophy` which is a pretty pensive and sombre stripped back piece with in the main piano and vocals.

`Participation Trophy` is a fairly intense listen with lyrics that are passionate, personal, and honest and come from a deep-seated individual place. The songs at times veer from melancholic and ballad like to more upbeat, joyous and anthemic. It`s an album that you`ll certainly take something away from after listening and may even discover something different when you next return. There`s a headline tour planned for October, so things seem to be certainly on the up for this rising indie quartet.

Rating 8.5 / 10

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