Everyone in Brooklyn is in a band, right? So it can often take something special for a record to stand out amidst all the acts making experimental electro with the local, ahem, “characters” in their overpriced loft space – and in 2009 locals Bear In Heaven did just that with the album Beast Rest Forth Mouth. Following on from a couple of albums that were well-received yet lacking that extra something, this release suddenly propelled the band from just another Brooklyn act to something really quite special by virtue of its near-perfect mix of synth pop, prog and art rock – and it also spawned that rare thing, an ace remix record. A band that at times defy classification or comparisons, Bear In Heaven then went a bit quiet, popping up only rarely with recordings such as their collaboration with fellow NYC blog darlings The Antlers. That piece of music was torn apart by some critics (loved by this one) and so perhaps the buzz and warmth towards them had cooled off. What better time, then, to remind us that with their new album I Love You, It’s Cool, Bear In Heaven are still a marvellous band.
Jon Philpot, Joe Stickney and Adam Wills are now the core of the band, and have taken unusual (and surprisingly humorous) steps in promoting their new album. Prior to its release they streamed it online. So far, so what, you might say, but they did so by slowing down the stream by 400,000%, leaving fans with 2700 hours of continuous music. Call it an experimental drone companion to the real deal or a tongue-in-cheek comment on download culture, it might be the way to look at the album as a whole: give it some time and you’ll reap the rewards. Also worth a mention is the behind-the-scenes mockumentary that documents the creation of the slowed-down stream, revealing the band’s unlikely collective funny bone.
Instantly recognisable as coming from the band that made BRFM, yet taking the music somewhere new, I Love You, It’s Cool is a pop record at heart, reining in some of the proggier tendencies whilst remaining expansive and interesting. The album begins with the two most overtly “up” moments, ‘Idle Hands’ and ‘The Reflection of You’. The former is a pulsating and swirling electro/rock track soothed by Jon Philpot’s light vocals, and the latter – the lead single – is an ’80s dream with layers of synths washing over a tricksy time signature: a hit single, but in another world. Elsewhere, ‘Sinful Nature’ finds the band in the edgier mode of BRFM with thumping drums and arpeggiated guitars leading us into conditional euphoria - you can enjoy yourself, but there’s a current of dread that the buzzing waveform outtro attests to. ‘Cool Light’, with its near 4/4 beat, is danceable but an incredibly (in)tense experience thanks to Philpot singing “I’m watching you, I’m watching you…”
At the more expansive edges of the band’s repertoire come the closers ‘Space Remains’ and ‘Sweetness & Sickness; the former’s brutal hi-energy assault providing a welcome rise in tempo before the latter covers slo-mo ground that’s utterly new for Bear In Heaven, a trippy jam that recalls Brightblack Morning Light and is simply pure joy across its six minutes.
There’s one thing that stops I Love You, It’s Cool from being as good as, or surpassing, its predecessor: pace. There’s a lack of variety here that – while not making it a bad record in any way at all – does just stop it from crossing over into the realms of greatness. Early reviews have suggested Bear In Heaven have failed to live up to their potential, but I see it as a grower, like BRFM: one or two listens might not reveal much and suggest a flatness, but give it another couple of spins and that feeling dissipates leaving a textured and interesting record. A record about love and all its complications, your relationship with the music needs a bit of time and nurturing… but trust me, it’ll be worth it.