Album Review: Cunabear & Steel Tipped Dove – ‘Steel Tipped Bear Claws 2: Phantasmagoria’

Posted: by The Editor

There’s an esoteric current running through Steel Tipped Bear Claws 2: Phantasmagoria. A sense of trying to peek through the veil and learn from what’s on the other side. It shows up in the part incantation/part affirmation opener “Abundance Spells,” in the trippy cover art, in the guttural chants and discordant touches to “Zero Grav” (Willpower Spells),” in the spookily psychedelic beats cut with lines about “luminous shrooms,” “burning sigils,” and “reciting spells by torchlight,” in the final benedictory “I WASH MY HANDS, I SAY MY GRACE” that closes out the record. The VII of Cups and Moon Tarot cards come to mind when listening to the record—this is a nighttime operation, deliberately placed at a time when the phantasms are most visible and the rhythms of the universe most perceptible. 

The second collaborative album between Cunabear and Steel Tipped Dove, Phantasmagoria is the best kind of conjunction, with Steel Tipped Dove’s beats creating an eerie, magical atmosphere for Cunabear to fill with his emphatic baritone delivery. The more drawn-out enchantments on Phantasmagoria work as mile markers, breaking up the quick-hit smooth party jams that fill out the space between. Following the incantatory opener is “Bucket O Grits,” a track that immediately sticks out as a potential hit with the summertime party beat accented by a pair of synths. Lyrically, Cunabear keeps one foot in a surreal world of knights and fabled kings with filthy castles, with the other foot planted in the mundane world, offering food to anyone who wants to stop by the crib (“no need to pay me money”).

Feeling equally radio ready—but on the other side of the album’s musical spectrum—is the showstopping “PLENTY.” It’s one of a handful of tunes here that stretch comfortably over five minutes, and Cunabear’s repetition of “abundance to us all” is truly understood at that point in the record—not only a hope and blessing, but a guiding principle and attitude to emanate. While tracks like “Abundance Spells” and “Blue” lean heavily into the type of contact-with-the-other-world feel on Phantasmagoria, “PLENTY” finds more of a middle ground between the trance-like meditative beats and the tracks like “Bucket O Grits” or “Shaved Mold,” which are more likely to get you moving than ruminating. (Not that these tracks can’t also contain some of the record’s more gripping lines. See: “my blood is not turned into art for an artifice / no artificial flavor / bent my rent check toward the sun and prayed no more for a landlord’s favor” in “Shaved Mold”)

Falling in between the ass-shaking tracks and the graveyard spellcasters is “Blessed Little Things (Her Pt. 3),” a tune that stands out for its angelic sway and lines like “lips of honey, eyes of fire / NFT the new colonizer museum.It’s paired with “Radiance on the Mountain,” another track that finds a balance between its smooth and eerie touches, with Cunabear’s lines about a “life disconnected from labor” backed by some haunting vocals. 

Seemingly the result of long meditation, psilocybin, or a combination of both, Phantasmagoria is ultimately a record to sit with. One that demands more than careful listen and calls for a meditative, immersive approach. The sequencing of the record is almost ritualistic or ceremonial, consciously creating a sense of healing at the end of the 40-minute journey as you get to the line “you don’t have to break down in order to start again.”

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

Steel Tipped Bear Claws 2: Phantasmagoria is streaming everywhere and available on cassette via Beartooth Collective.

Aaron Eisenreich | @slobboyreject

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