Within four walls in Brooklyn, Jon Philpot, Adam Wills, Sadek Bazaara and Joe Stickney have mined the democracy of their collaboration, plus the endless hours of stream-of-consciousness recorded documentation of rehearsals over the past year to conceive the crystalline form of "Beats Rest Forth Mouth", their 2nd album, their exaltation. Pitchfork called their first album "a true cohesive work in an era when the album-as-art form appears to be slowly dying" and The Onion found it "a powerful, functional mix of This Heat, '70's soft rock, early Genesis, and oddly, later Pink Floyd."
Review by Ned Raggett
Starting with steady, straightforward drumming and buried bass, Bear in Heaven almost sound like a less complicated Can on their second album, Beast Rest Forth Mouth, something the quiet, dreamy vocals don't immediately counteract. In a way, this makes the sudden interjection of power chords and a distinctly familiar tinge to the singing a bit of a comedown -- if mainstream prog crossed with woozy MBV-and-everything-after guitar is the latest place for indie to end up, then it apparently has to have a gloss on it that assumes that it was invented by Wayne Coyne (albeit midwived by Jon Anderson). The album as a whole doesn't quite escape this fluctuating role -- to its benefit as well as detriment -- while all too defiantly lodged in a sonic place that assumes electronics in pop stopped a number of years ago, say around the time of the original shoegazers. Sometimes the recombination of random impulses creates odd, enjoyable moments, like the shuddering, strange flow of "You Do You," with vocals echoing down a chorus along with the guitars, the watery percussion echo on "Drug a Wheel," or the compressed snarl and woozy swirl of "Ultimate Satisfaction." One feels a sense of stasis for all the recombination, though, an idea that this is as far as the band can either get, or is willing to get -- an extension of past sounds instead of fully engaging with the musical lingua franca of now. Not too surprising given rock's endless possibilities for self-regard, but even so, a little frustrating somehow.
While it may seem as if there's not a new release without a hyphenated genre to give it birth, Bear in Heaven's second LP feels fresh simply because it resists easy categorization or comparison. This isn't to say it's sonically groundbreaking, though-- fitting for an album whose title references the four main navigational directions, Beast Rest Forth Mouth is as familiar-feeling as it is difficult to pinpoint. Mostly made up of textural, spacious three- to four-minute pop anthems with towering choruses, BRFM is a welcome reminder that an album doesn't have to be bombastic to feel huge and important. Take out the earbuds and let it fill a space: This is music that's bigger than your iPod-- music you'll want to feel all around you.
Though not quite coming out of nowhere, BRFM seems like a surprise gift-- a striking consolidation of the spiky psych-prog tendencies of their debut into a pop framework. In terms of career gear-shifts, the move Caribou made with Andorra is the most recent precedent. Though at 41 minutes the album is economical and sharp in its execution, the band-- all from Georgia and Alabama-- still imbues its compositions with the generosity of spirit that makes the best Southern rock so invigorating. "Beast in Peace" opens the record with a gentle lockstep before shifting seamlessly into a mile-wide chorus. Then, they expand that chorus even further, like switching to the widest camera lens to capture a vista they just realized the full vastness of. Elsewhere, as its title indicates, "Ultimate Satisfaction" is an IMAX-wide ode to what starts out as a simple thought, then turns bodily-- the refrain of "coming down!" charts the sensation spreading like a spasm. That towering exultation is also felt on the primal "Deafening Love". While aiming for a similar sense of awe-inspiring bliss, "Love" widens the focus and luxuriates in the tremors, approximating a more protracted take on Jane's Addiction's "Mountain Song".
Yet Bear in Heaven's greatest trick is creating music that evokes the sort of physicality and scope that could soundtrack a Hollywood film, but also works equally well at stirring up intimate bodily passion. Lush synth beds, warm electronics accenting polyrhythms, and Jon Philpot's yearning, boyish howl coalesce into a vibe that's muscular without being macho, and which strikes a rare balance between nuanced emotion and overwhelming sensation. Even when delving into more disconcerting subject matter-- dabbling in self-loathing on "Wholehearted Mess" or confronting paranoia on the slinky "You Do You"-- Philpot still manages to imbue the songs with an atmosphere of seduction and intrigue.
An album like BRFM couldn't exist without a paean to the most severe and high-stakes of endeavors, and first single "Lovesick Teenagers" more than meets the requirements for 2009's Epic Song About Tortured Young Romance. With briskly alternating synth chords spitting by like fast-moving highway stripes, the titular couple are doomed to crash, but most likely in a JG Ballard sort of way. The pair martyr themselves in order to eternalize their passion, and the band is generous enough to resurrect them later, in the reprise of "Teenagers" that closes the album, seamlessly and surprisingly emerging from "Casual Goodbye". As a gesture, it's a slight nod backwards to the suite-like structures of their debut, but moreoever a celebration of abundance that wraps up an album overflowing with feeling. It's also an exclamation point signaling that Bear in Heaven not only clearly recognize their own best instincts, they're not shy about dwelling on them. Sure, bands can adapt to the current musical climate by adding extras to LPs, tweaking release dates to accommodate fan interest, or even giving away their music free. A curtain call like "Teenagers", though: now that's generosity.
— Eric Harvey, November 9, 2009