By: Hope Ankney
There are only a few times in my life when I’ve found myself in an environment where my reality has been a bit altered- where time seemed nonexistent or almost intangible. The first was under a humming street lamp in the darkness that only envelopes the 4 AM hour. With it being the heart of December in New York City, I felt a haze drift through me as I waited, alone, for the dull headlights of my airport shuttle. The next featured me lying on the tile-flooring of a too quiet hospital wing as the breaking sunrise filtered through the windows. The last was the grieving period of drinking too much wine and nursing that in the back of a car while I heard the faint bass of a late-night band play their set inside a bar across the street. As I absorbed little bear’s latest EP, I soon realized that, that was the soundtrack that accompanied those places. It was the score of liminal spaces.
Aaron Kisslinger, known as the moniker ‘little bear,’ is a Bronx-bred multi-instrumentalist, producer, poet, singer, and activist. Growing up in the melting pot that is New York City, it’s evident in Kisslinger’s lyricism that this eclectic environment has had profound impacts on how they tackle their art and challenge their listener to face the social injustices of the world while still cultivating a space that holds promise of a better future. The musicality that seeps from the persona of little bear is one of multi-faceted genres that are as bold and direct as the poetry that accompanies them, and this only grows stronger through their latest release.
The EP Needs drips with what has now become the sound that defines little bear’s work- “electrabrasspop.” It’s a fitting title as nothing else seems to suit the rollercoaster of influences featured throughout the five tracks.
Beginning with the opener, “Start,” the song acts as a prelude of sorts as one hears the crescendo of Kisslinger’s voice paired with the build up of punching horns and a daunting organ. It sets the tone of the record as it ends with a husky, “You ready to start?”
The electronic ear-worm titled “Private Parts” follows with a hook that will have one bumbling the beat through their mind hours after. Stripping back the funky instrumentals, the track takes on a more vulnerable side as Kisslinger croons over opening their chest to someone and showing them the parts of themselves not even a closest friend knows, even going so far as to remind the one that holds their gaze that they’re beautiful “no matter what the world would do to you.”
The latter half of the EP holds the strongest work as it showcases the raw talents of little bear’s production levels and cleverly crafted rhyme scheme. “Airplane Mode” featuring Sol Patch makes the poetry musical and gives predictable pleasure through the slick rhymes that ride the track. Home is thick in bass foundation and spotlights the spectacular range Kisslinger has. The falsettos hit during lyrics like, “look at me, I’m just the thing you thought I was. Look at me, I’m not the thing you thought I was” gives a more melancholy feel to the already self-reflective song. little bear is able to shift the ears to a Chicago jazz bar halfway through with the brass taking center stage as the end works as an awakening with trailing thoughts that include “My angels stay my frenemy. My brain becomes the better me.”
The title-track closes the record, and, surprisingly enough, is a strong effort compared to most title-tracks. Mixed with funky bass undertones and prominent horns, the slick layering of production here is insane. Tag-teaming between strained vocals that list things that are okay to feel and what Kisslinger needs, the light musicality offered gives the song a voice- an anthemic vibe.
Kisslinger has a knack of teleporting the listener to a headspace of time that stands still- a liminal space. Needs is an EP that feels like a throughway from one place to the next. The existence of the record is not about the sound or little bear’s presence itself. It’s about the inbetween, the grey area the EP embodies. Just as specific places feel altered in reality, Kisslinger has created a soundtrack that fits the environment that stands as a limbo between the before and after. These non-definitive places exist in their own bubble, and that’s how one should view the collaborative haze that is little bear’s Needs.