Last summer, when I saw Morning Bear perform for the first time, I was impressed at the ease in which singer-songwriter John Runnels was able to transform the set into what felt like an intimate concert for me and only me. Some of that comes from the stage presence and charisma he exudes, but a large part comes from the ability to connect with the audience through personal storytelling within the songs. Without ever hearing the songs before, I was able to go along with the orchestral indie band on their journey of loss, change, and discovery. Runnels has been able to connect with audience members across Denver, the west, and Europe as he tours extensively, and Morning Bear is expanding that connection with the release of their EP, Celeste.
The EP starts with the titular “Morning Bear,” a repetitive fingerpicking sequence that moves on to a swirling undercurrent of orchestral sound that can make you lose your footing if you are not careful. Then, just in case the music had not gripped your heart and central nervous system, Fleet Foxes-inspired harmonies are layered on top. Right before the folk rock tsunami crashes down on the listener, it dissipates and moves onto the next track. “Celeste” builds on a similar pattern but sees its orchestration through to the end, complete with mandolin, flute, strings, and Runnels’ steady tenor and acoustic guitar pop progressions.
The rest of the EP follows suit; Runnels shows his adeptness at crafting a folk pop ballad that starts modest then builds into a crescendo that gently pushes at the bruise of one’s own melancholia in a way that simply reminds them how to feel. Morning Bear’s emotionally charged folk takes the listener by the hand, walks them through a bucolic field of sorrow and before the audience knows it, they are asking “why am I on this rollercoaster and why are the words ‘Of Emotion’ painted on the sides?”
The first three tracks of the Celeste EP are available on Morning Bear’s bandcamp page, but on April 10th you will be able to get a physical copy with five tracks at Morning Bear’s album release at the Lost Lake Lounge in Denver. Whether you see them live or download the digital EP, get lost in the expansive sounds of this band and remember your best roller coaster outfit, just in case.