Feature Album: Bear In Heaven: Beast Rest Forth Mouth
Like their Brooklyn counterparts The Antlers, Bear In Heaven started inside the brain of one man, holed up in his bedroom. Atlanta native Jon Philpot started releasing material under the Bear In Heaven moniker in 2003, before being joined by a revolving cast of friends, fellow transplants from Atlanta and Georgia. Together, they started playing ֖ or trying to play ֖ Philpot's wildly varied home-recorded compositions.
'It was basically like a cluster fuck,' Philpot said of the band's beginnings in an interview. 'We had synthesizers and samplers and we were trying to translate these weird, very personal-time songs; none of the timing was in any kind of normal counts or anything like that.'
But they kept at it. Over the next couple of years, the revolving Bear In Heaven line-up honed their live chops, while putting together their first lp, Red Bloom Of The Boom, which came out in 2007. A shape-shifting, slippery set of longer workouts, Red Bloom Of The Broom hinted at the band's many and varied influences ֖ the elegant eclecticism of Talk Talk, Barrett-era Pink Floyd, early post-rock, Krautrock ֖ in a set that took in ambient drones and abstract soundscapes alongside synth-heavy space-rock and more immediate, anthemic numbers.
By 2009, the band, now whittled down to a four piece, offered up Beast Rest Forth Mouth, their second lp. A tighter, more focused collection of songs, Beast Rest Forth Mouth is nonetheless still hard to pin down. Like the compass points it alludes to in its title, it's an album of many directions and shades, traversing a lot of ground over its forty minutes.
Opener 'Beast in Peace' begins with a simple pulse and descending, three-note bass line, leaving the air clear for Philpot's distinctive, reedy pipes, which gradually usher in the rest of the band. Flourishes come and go; the drums scatter and build, and then the whole thing gives way to one of the band's trademark vast choruses, this one pinned to just one distorted chord and Philot's gorgeous descending vocal line.
Next up is 'Wholehearted Mess', a track whose title might imply some navel-gazing, melodramatic implosion, but which is instead a consistently surprising, thrilling three minutes of music, switching gears halfway through into an explosion of galloping, polyrhythmic drums and pulsing synths. (Drummer Joe Stickney's unerringly precise, layered stickwork is a highlight throughout.)
'Wholehearted Mess' segues so seamlessly into the next track, 'You Do You', you'd have to be looking at your stereo to know it's another song. Throughout Beast Rest Forth Mouth, the band retain a refreshing, old-fashioned commitment to the album ֖ a cohesive, unified piece of music, that is, the whole recognisable in each of the parts. Of course, this was how bands used to make records all the time. Now, in whatever you want to call this age in music, it's a novel ֖ and very welcome ֖ approach. Beast Rest Forth Mouth is something designed to be consumed whole.
A self-described nerdy band, with diverse musical pedigrees, Bear In Heaven put a lot of thought into their songs, and it shows. The album is filled with big sweeping, moments, but nothing sounds forced or melodramatic. The big, swooning shifts and peaks tend to come on suddenly, without much warning, and often from odd angles. And when they arrive, they're often not even the biggest moment in the song: much of the time, as in the terrific 'Wholehearted Mess', they're just a taster for something even more expansive.
All of which makes Beast Rest Forth Mouth a terrifically unpredictable record ֖ you're always left wondering what's around the next corner, which direction they'll fly off into next.