Everything that’s fantastic about Bear In Heaven’s second album Beast Rest Forth Mouth (and there’s a lot) can be heard in its lead single, “Wholehearted Mess.” Woozy, Modest Mouse-like guitars wheeze over a propulsive, sputtering beat before a high-speed keyboard throb takes over and shoots it into outer space. When Jon Philpot’s detached, effects addled vocals broadcast as the voice of this lunar vessel’s captain, it reaches an eye-popping critical mass. It’s an accessible, yet cosmic sound, if not wholly original then one that treats its influences in an atypical, cubist fashion. Powerful, energetic and sonically expansive, it’s everything I look for in an indie rock song.
The beauty of Beast Rest Forth Mouth is that there are ten such moments, conjoined in tight cohesion, yet flowing with a fluid motion. It’s a notable step forward for the band, whose Red Tomb of The Bloom was a promising debut, full of sounds both foreign and familiar. Yet on their sophomore album, the Brooklyn-via-Georgia quartet gets everything right. It’s a dynamic and alien thing of beauty, throbbing with all the raw muscle of a great rock album, but enrobed in stunning layers of synth. Having been compared to greats ranging from Pink Floyd and Genesis to more contemporary names like M83 and the Flaming Lips, Bear In Heaven certainly evoke royalty, though they primarily do so by offering something challenging and unique.
Bear In Heaven’s songs only occasionally surpass the five-minute mark. However, even in bite-size portions, the group creates something truly epic. Leadoff track “Beast In Peace” is a prime example, marching with a militant drumbeat and delay-treated guitar before a mighty beam of synth comes shining through, opening the album with flash and flair. “You Do You,” meanwhile, is a bit trippier and more rhythmic, spiraling synth melodies escalating around Philpot’s distant cries. Rivaling, and even besting “Wholehearted Mess” is the awe-inspiring “Lovesick Teenagers,” a song that, quite frankly, sounds like the future. It’s the kind of song for which words like “cinematic” were coined, juxtaposing a soaring, arty vocal performance with effects galore, and a persistent, mid-tempo rhythm that truly should be stamped out over sci-fi movie credits.
There’s an anxious, jittery feel about “Ultimate Satisfaction,” another dramatic highlight that finds buzzing Moogs punctuated by Philpot’s yelp of “Coming down!” With “Dark Cloud,” the album takes a darker turn (forgive the obvious expression), veering into a gorgeously woozy goth-rock ballad. The plodding “Drug a Wheel” opts for more ambient textures, while the weeping guitar licks of “Deafening Love” steer the album back toward the haunting, futuristic sound that make up the bulk of the album’s first half. Ultimately, the album regains its fierce momentum in the last two tracks, the sputtering new wave of “Fake Out” and the majestic march of “Casual Goodbye,” leaving the listener with a close that’s nearly as strong as its introduction, even reincorporating elements of “Lovesick Teenagers” as it concludes.
Bear In Heaven have made a significant leap in the past two years, going from band to watch to a heavy hitter in just one move. Not many albums sound like Beast Rest Forth Mouth, let alone actually sound this good. With this masterfully crafted second album, Bear In Heaven pull the rare trick of actually making music that’s progressive, rather than just prog.
MP3: “Lovesick Teenagers”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.