The debut EP from Bear’s Den is a pleasant collection of five earnest folk songs that run the gamut from wistful to heartfelt to quietly intense. If that doesn’t seem like such a big gamut to run, that’s because it isn’t. This English trio made their name, at least in the UK, opening for Mumford & Sons and Agape shows exactly why they fit so well in that opening slot. Bear’s Den mines the exact same veins of English folk and Americana for inspiration as the Mumfords. Listening to Agape is a lot like listening to a better version of Mumford & Sons debut Sigh No More, minus the big, catchy singles. Bear’s Den hasn’t figured out how to write a “Little Lion Man” or “The Cave” yet, but otherwise the songwriting here is several steps ahead of their benefactors circa 2009. Outside of the singles, that first Mumford album was full of sound-alike songs that relied way too much on Marcus Mumford’s pained earnestness.
Agape relies equally strongly on Andrew Davies’ vocals, but the accompanying music is varied enough to make for an interesting listening experience. “Agape” uses a nice banjo line to accompany lyrics about the fear of losing a loved one. “Isaac” is a quietly effective ballad, while closer “Year Ago Today” is a gentle song of recrimination. “Mother” has the feel of a traditional English folk song, driven by an ominous banjo and well-placed drums. The dark “When You Break” uses shimmery background electric guitar to great effect to complement an excellent, fragile vocal from Davies.