Bear In Heaven: I LOVE YOU, IT'S COOL

Mon Jul 23 2012

This album could be straight out of the 80s, with its Jan-Hammer-Miami-Vice synths washing over everything (sometimes warm, sometimes icy), blatantly inorganic drum machine momentum and Jon Philpot’s half-smirky, half-earnest, cavernous vocals (that often sound uncannily like those of Jaill’s Vincent Kircher, who is admittedly not an 80s artist).  Like a lot of the electronic pop coming out of New York these days, it’s got that empty mournfulness of saccharine European bubblegum from twenty-plus years ago (Pet Shop Boys, Double), but misses out on the subtleties in favor of an omnipresent drone, afraid that a moment of silence or a clear, singular instrument will cause the modern listener to tune out.  What Bear In Heaven fills that space with, though, is a relentlessly engaging barrage of shimmering, sometimes even noisy moodpop that demands your full attention.

The odd discovery I had in listening to this album in various situations is that when I’m doing something else with music as a backdrop, it strikes me as boring.  When I have it cranked and am concentrating primarily on it, every song grabs me.  Especially effective: “Sinful Nature”.  The way it amps you up into thinking it’s about to explode into a ballistic techno jam and then ends is just cruel.  “Space Remains” is similarly harrowing, a runaway train of urgency in the end that would go well on a mixtape with Panda Bear’s “Afterburner”.  The album delights in shifting from edgy rave to depressed afterparty over and over, coming down with finality in “Sweetness And Sickness”.  That title isn’t exactly an apt summation of the music, although it does evoke the semi-lucid, blank canvass of emotion you might feel at that point.

It’s certainly strange that the band has all but abandoned the pounding tribal elements that peppered its 2009 breakthrough, Beast Rest Forth Mouth.  One might suspect that BIH is trying to pull an Animal Collective or a Yeasayer a couple years late.  I Love You, It’s Cool retains the band’s soaring, anthemic tendencies but beefs up the previously sparse, fluffy production with an edgy undercurrent bordering on, um, rock and roll?  Particularly on the thrilling “Space Remains”, there’s an almost metallic attitude even without any discernible guitars that feels a bit threatening.  But the aggression is tempered with uneasy low-key stuff like the extremely Atlas Sound-sounding “Sweetness And Sickness”, the only track on the album that gives you any room to breathe--and are those actual physical bongos in the background?  It’s another win-win in the battle of technology versus soul.

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