For Black Friday, instead of hitting the stores and waiting in long lines to buy shit you don't really need (because nobody really uses Black Friday to buy gifts for other people; this is America, after all!), why don't you get comfortable in front of your computer, close the window filled with deviant porn, and cuddle with a nice underground act that you two have never heard of before. Sound good? Here we go.
Bi-Polar Bear is a duo made up of two guys, Ugly Orwell and August, who act as both emcees and producers. They are currently the holders of the most goddamn fucking adorable logo in the history of our chosen genre.
Okay, now that you're done looking at the album cover again for their debut full-length, Today I Found Happy, we can talk. Bi-Polar Bear (which is also a pretty cool name) recorded the project primarily in Brooklyn, New York, but their musical style betrays more of a all-inclusive vibe, as opposed to strict boom bap. Ug and August write songs that hover around the themes of love, loss, love lost, and lost love (hence the hearts on the album cover), but their words are typically couched in funky musical concoctions that will have you nodding your head even as your tear ducts fill while you dream about that girl that broke your fucking heart and now because of that bitch you have an addiction to Ambien that you've been trying to kick for the past twenty years without success and it's affected your work life and your daily interactions with your family and the friends you have left after you alienated them with your antisocial behavior and now you bury your feelings at the bottom of a fifth of Jameson while reconsidering this whole "life" thing.
Today I Found Happy was released back in 2009 independently, but it has gained steam in recent months on hip hop blogs thanks to increasing amounts of critical acclaim (Today I Found Happy was included on many 'Best Albums of 2009' lists) that preceded its re-release, which is why you're now able to find it on Amazon. Ug and August were even able to afford to shoot a video, for the very first track on the album, which they blessed with the classy title...
1. FUCK HER
I imagine that title may frighten the more prudish of my readers (nah, I'm just fucking with you: I would think that some of the other shit I've written would have scared them off long ago), but it shouldn't, because the opening salvo on Today I Found Happy is pretty goddamn great, with an August instrumental that is the tits. Ugly Orwell handles both verses, describing an abusive relationship he wants to walk away from, if only she wasn't so much fun to fuck. Or something. I'll be honest, I first caught on to Bi-Polar Bear after seeing the kinda-cute girl in the video for "Fuck Her" portraying Ugly's tormentor. Yes, I'm pretty shallow sometimes. But I stuck around for the music, so clearly their plan actually worked.
2. TEST YOUR MIGHT (FEAT. KALO)
This was pretty good too, although it gives off an altogether different vibe than the previous track. August handles the beat yet agan, and the end result is catchy enough, but he also gets behind the mic alongside Ugly and guest star Kalo, who ends up being the only third party to have a hand in Today I Found Happy, and all three men do an alright job with the general "don't fuck with me" theme, even though that sentiment is delivered in a fashion much more emo than not. Still, I kind of dug this track.
3. HER FOR HIM
I couldn't get into this song. It troubles me that I'm writing this so early in the review, but such is life. Ugly's instrumental, his first on the album, was okay, but that's all I got.
August produced what is basically a solo venture that goes out of its way to question the existence of God. (Orwell only chimes in during the chorus, which reveals that the title stands for "no pill for Jesus".) Tackling the idea of religion and indirectly comparing it to an affliction or a disease is an interesting approach, one that might have had more of an impact had the song actually sounded decent. As it is, we're left picking up fragments of big ideas that never amount to anything. Thanks for playing, though.
5. GOOD MOANIN'
Ugly Orwell handles this song all by himself, with his Paul Wall-esque flow giving two verses over to a one-night stand with a girl who he meets cute with while she's listening to A Tribe Called Quest's Midnight Marauders. On a Walkman. That plays cassette tapes. So it's obvious that he wrote this song back in 1994. Still, this wasn't bad: his relaxed delivery meshes with his instrumental in a lovely fashion, and you can't help but go along with him on this ride.
6. TODAY I FOUND HAPPY
Orwell's production on this title track is unnerving, but using old, static-filled samples of piano keys tend to do that to me. His two verses describe the mindstate of a recently dumped guy who replaces his girlfriend with pills and then with suicide, so this shit's pretty dark, but Ugly's attention to detail and slightly hopeful delivery renders this track a winner. Of course, I just described this song by using the words "suicide" and "hopeful" in the same sentence, so take that as you will.
7. PARTY GIRL
8. HOME PT. 2
Bi-Polar Bear traffic in failed relationships, so hearing them talking about a house that no longer feels like "home sweet home" isn't much of a shock. August's instrumental is pretty good, but the energy level doesn't align with Ugly's vocals, and the mismatch causes the track to fall by the wayside. It is what it is.
9. LOVE BEGINS TO DIE
Alright, this was a step back in the right direction. Surprisingly, "Love Begins To Die" is not about a relationship on life support: as Ugly helpfully offers in his opening bars, this song is actually about no longer loving and appreciating life. Which, yes, makes this another ode to suicide, but a much more subtle one, with an optimistic Orwell instrumental doing battle with the dark themes throughout the running time. I also liked the use of the "A Little Bit Of Soap" (the version by The Exciters, I believe) during the hook. Not bad.
10. NIGHTS LIKE THIS
"Nights Like This" (referred to as "Night's Like This" on the back cover, for some reason) is made up of two parts. The first half, produced by August, features both components of Bi-Polar Bear spitting a single verse apiece over some really goddamn good production. Which is all well and good, until the second half of the suite kicks in, with a much more experimental vibe thanks to Ugly Orwell, who also tackles the final verse all by himself. The back end has more of a deep hallucinatory effect, but the entire track as a whole was pretty fucking good.
Life is made up of one long journey, during which your character is built around how you cope with all of the bullshit that has shaped you and your psyche, and if you are lucky enough to find someone to share your journey with, it's all worth it in the end. That's the general idea of Ugly's closing track, which is depressing and yet optimistic at the same time, like a rose growing out of concrete or some other bullshit 2Pac analogy you can come up with. The point is, "Life" was a good way to end things.
Today I Found Happy ends with an unlisted bonus track that is just a bouncier remix of "Life". I prefer the original, personally, but the revamp works in its own way.
THE LAST WORD: Rookie mistakes aside, Bi-Polar Bear's Today I Found Happy is ultimately an enjoyable experience that deserves a wider following. Building an entire album around broken relationships is a risky proposition, since there's always a chance that you may alienate the audience with your depressing tone and your need to vent, but Ugly Orwell and August don't go all Kanye or Drake on the listener: in fact, they do the opposite, as both men produce (mostly) upbeat instrumentals that lighten the mood considerably. Ug handles the microphone much more often than his partner on Today I Found Happy, so you're given more of a chance to adapt to his flow, which starts off gruff (as on "Fuck Her") but shifts into a fine example of underground bravado from a guy who is hopeful, but cautious. All in all, Bi-Polar Bear have created a magnum opus that you should give a shot, as you will be pleasantly surprised. This was pretty good.