I had my latest tattoo done a few days ago: a woman, her hand resting gently against her chest, kneeling next to a black crab with a white moon on its back, now adorn my right thigh, just above the knee (guess my sun sign). Due to my tattoo artist also being a cancer, our conversation naturally turned towards our relationship with our emotions: their unbridled intensity, how they can be misinterpreted as concealing something dirtier and meaner, and how we absolutely revel in nostalgia’s bittersweet embrace. Smell and music came up as great catalysts for precious memories, but we both agreed on analog photography as the most effective way to clear a path through memory’s fog and recreating past lives in precise details.

Although our conversation eventually moved on from nostalgia, what we discussed lingered with me as she continued etching her art into my skin. Once the session was over and my mind exited tattoo mode, I was able to think more clearly about my personal relationship with nostalgia. Music, as I discussed it with my tattoo artist, has an incredible ability to evoke the past for me; certain songs, albums, and, especially, mix CDs I’ve made over the years  instantly open a window to a different time of my life. But of the music I’ve heard, few artists are more skilled at crafting a sonic representation of nostalgia than Leslie Bear, with her dream pop solo project Long Beard.

I first heard Long Beard in 2019, in the build-up to the release of her excellent sophomore album Means to Me. But Bear began the project in 2009, when she was in college, taking the name from a fictional wizard character she had created. Her first release was 2014’s Holy Crow EP, whose lo-fi production harbored the seeds for the rich textures and mournful songwriting of her later work. Bear’s music uses her dreamy guitar work and gentle vocals as the building blocks for a soft brand of indie rock that evokes homesickness and longing, even while being a more conceptual affair, as the places, people, and situations aren’t our own; in that sense, it feels much like looking through an old picture album from before you were born, that still manages to pull on your heartstrings with astounding force.

On each of her subsequent releases, Long Beard‘s music has unfurled with more poignancy as Bear evolves her personal guitar style and outside collaborators add their own strength to the mix. Just one year after Holy Crow, Sleepwalker proved to be an enormous step forward not only in terms of a cleaner production that really helps bring out the details in the sonic tapestries Bear weaves, but also in the depths the music manages to reach. On Sleepwalker, the warm guitar tones cast a nebulous net over the listener, like a cloudy sky that stars still manage to shine through, if only slightly. The songs appear more meditative, the guitars functioning on a level close to ambience much more than as a driving force forward; these lingering compositions allow one to ponder, trying to gaze through the magical haze.

Means to Me —my introduction to Long Beard, which has consistently ranked within my top 20 albums for the last couple of years— diversifies the band’s sonic palette and rhythmic foundations. Produced by Craig Hendrix, who Bear met during her time playing bass in Japanese Breakfast‘s touring band, the songs on Means to Me feature livelier drums and melodically diverse bass sections, both instruments played by Hendrix himself, which grant Bear’s guitar playing new dynamics to flourish in. From more traditional indie rock cuts like “Getting By” and “Sweetheart” (the first song I heard, which got me hooked immediately), to slower songs like “Empty Bottle” and “In the Morning” (which fuse into each other delightfully), the record’s ten songs shine in the care with with they’ve been crafted, and how Bear and Hendrix manage for every element present to add warmth and nuance to the mix. A feeling of longing permeates the album, but any final resolution is a hopeful one, especially given the energetic guitar section that closes off the album on the aptly-named “The Last”.

Means to Me is Long Beard‘s latest full-length release, but last year she collaborated with Ryan Galloway (of Crying and BUMPER) alongside Michelle Zauner (of Japanese Breakfast) on “Posters”, a lively indie pop song buoyed by Galloway’s bouncing drum machine and synths. As is to be expected, Bear’s singing and guitar playing are as sweet as ever, and it’s great to hear her continue to try new things with her music. Hopefully we can hear a new album from her soon.

Follow Long Beard on Instagram, and listen to or buy her music here.

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