America may have invented house music, but it was in Britain where dance culture really took root. Be Strong, the debut album from The 2 Bears – aka Joe Goddard of Hot Chip and his equally cuddly and hirsute DJ partner Raf “Daddy” Rundell – is an extended celebration of this culture, the bonds it forges and the comfort it provides in tough times.
It’s a shamelessly nostalgic record, deliberately incorporating familiar sounds and samples that will push the buttons of aging ravers, but the beats are crisp and inventive enough for it never to feel indulgent or anachronistic. It’s an album about the dancefloor as much as for the dancefloor, so each track has a distinct character: There’s the daft jacking house anthem “Bear Hug,” the reflective 2-step ballad “Heart Of The Congos” or the friendly ruffneck bounce of the title track, which shouts out to everyone from Moodymann to Steely Dan and The KLF to Jazzy Jeff.
Be Strong is playful, sometimes even a bit silly, but as with Hot Chip’s jollier moments it generally falls on the right side of jokiness. There’s also a sneaky deftness to the songwriting, ensuring The 2 Bears’ simple messages of unity and compassion – “We’ve got to work/ work harder/ for the future/ for each other” – feel meaningful and sincere rather than just token E-talk. It all adds up to the most vibrant and heartfelt dance crossover album since Basement Jaxx’s Rooty.