Prospective Marty McFlys likely shed a few tears beneath their Delorean gull-wings when scientists last year determined that time travel is physically impossible. So, we’ll never be able to find what might happen should one of us stand side by side with a younger or older version of himself after a leap through the time-space continuum, nor will we be able to cheat our way to wealth through sports statistics books published in 2015. There is, however, three years to perfect the prototype for the hoverboard, which I eagerly await.
If an illusory substitute for venturing into the future exists, however, one of the best places to find it would be in Bear In Heaven’s 2009 album Beast Rest Forth Mouth. The Brooklyn band’s arty synth-pop, while on the whole more immediately gratifying than the songs on their debut, Red Bloom of the Boom, paradoxically evoked a simultaneously dystopian and Utopian realm of eerie mystique, alluring and disorienting all at once. That their arrangements were steeped as much in sheer sensuality as they were in hazy melodic abstraction ensured a continuous and repeated immersive sensory experience, one whose aesthetics seemed of another time, specifically one that hasn’t happened just yet. Judging by the 10 eerily beautiful, ominously danceable songs that comprise new album I Love You It’s Cool, the band isn’t ready to leave this distant and curious realm just yet.
Nor should they. If anything, the thunderously seductive atmosphere Bear In Heaven refined so meticulously on their previous effort seems all the more expansive on I Love You It’s Cool. And their promotional efforts in advance of the album’s release-namely, slowing down a stream of the record by a degree of 40,000-did nothing to dissuade anyone that they were operating from their own post-modern sci-fi template. This is still an accessible, highly melodic album, the new wave prototypes of which have existed before Bear In Heaven’s members were even born, even if the band’s own mutant version of it manages to turn seemingly familiar elements into strange, alien landscapes.
More than ever, on I Love You It’s Cool the band’s dense atmospherics serve as a cathedral-sized vessel for ever sharpening pop songwriting. Not that they didn’t already have their moments of pop transcendence-“Wholehearted Mess” and “Lovesick Teenagers” were already as gigantic and unshakable as synth-pop songs get. Bear In Heaven has taken greater care in bridging the gap between chest-thumping hooks and moodier diversions, however, bringing more approachability to their dystopian vibes this time around, the finished product being their closest ever to unabashedly perfect pop, even if that’s still an entirely relative term. It’s easy to believe, for a brief moment, that the opening pulses of “Idle Heart” are there to lure the listener into a blissful ambient nebula, but in mere seconds, its beat begins to thud, its funky bassline kicks in, and this amorphous cloud of a song grows into a catalyst for movement and physical connection.
“The Reflection of You” has gotten a few months of mileage as the album’s first single, with good reason. It’s one of the stronger showcases for Bear In Heaven’s pop prowess, its dark flashes of synthesizer mapping out an extremely emotional dancefloor exercise. Singer John Philpot comes off as more heart-wrenchingly desperate than ever, pleading “I want to run to you, but my legs won’t move” and “When you look in my eyes, you’ll see the reflection of you,” only to have his invitation to “Dance with me” melt in a gradually pitch-shifted descent. There’s an even darker, grittier sound in the resonant guitar strums of “Noon Moon,” and the throbbing post-punk current of “Sinful Nature” is a maximalist masterpiece that finds Philpot switching from lonesome to defiant and impulsive: “Let’s get loaded, and make some strange things come true.” And on “World of Freakout,” the band blurs the lines between menacing and serene in a wonderfully trippy fashion, hitting a heavy climax that leans squarely toward the former.
As I Love You It’s Cool comes to a close with “Sweetness and Sickness,” the band casts aside all that synth-driven infrastructure for a dreamier, strummier trip into jazzy ambience. And as disorienting as it is, it’s much lighter and breezier, serving as a reminder that Bear In Heaven, as forward thinking and atmospherically lofty as they can be, are still some modern dudes making a rock record, to put it simply. It’s the illusion of synaesthesia they create, however, that makes them so utterly captivating.
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.