Was I really the only one, back in 2009, to whom those promises heaped upon Bear in Heaven’s second album, Beast Rest Forth Mouth, went unfulfilled? Those supposed captivating evocations of space and volume, affectations that built inevitably towards a gathering sense of ominousness and a constant suggestiveness of miscellanies of a grand cinematic nature were, for the most part, lost on me. Besides, if that was what Bear in Heaven was more or less aiming at, I could’ve just as well popped in Depeche Mode’s Black Celebration or Music for the Masses. While I certainly felt at odds with everyone else when it came to Beast Rest, it doesn’t really matter anymore: the Brooklyn trio — now sans recently departed member Sadek Bazarra, who still managed to inadvertently name the new album and provide its Richard Corben meets abstract expressionism meets late-80s mass-media pop cover — has always been characterized by an impressionably knowing appropriation of the New Romantic and synth pop cues of the 1980s. Besides, their attempts at that aforementioned grandeur have always appeared to be nothing if not compellingly sincere. It’s why I still had any interest in hearing what the bemusingly titled I Love You, It’s Cool had to offer, and in light of my reception to past material — or lack of insight; call it what you will — I’m glad I did.
Never mind any of that doom and gloom that pervaded Beast Rest; I Love You emits a wholly different mood and character from the very first seconds of opener “Idle Heart.” It’s the sound of one waking from the slumber of Beast Rest, with driving drones that are simultaneously shifting and meandering, yet faster and sleeker than anything heard before from the band, carrying the listener more so than just guiding them. While detractors of Beast Rest may have found its songs over-long with their ineffectual trudging, “Idle Heart” has the a/effect of something fleeting, freed from the shackles of debilitating and unnecessary mass and weight, seamlessly transitioning into a splash of synth-y bleeps that start off “The Reflection of You,” easily one of the best songs Bear in Heaven’s yet recorded, as fine as “pop-techno” will probably ever get this year. “Reflection” effectively epitomizes the natural progression felt throughout I Love You, It’s Cool, giving the album an overall airy and ephemeral feel while also masking an intent and purpose missing the last time around. Even Jon Philpot’s lyrics express this, when he repeatedly follows helpless, lovesick yearning and longing with a near-obliviously confident and demanding sense of purposefulness: “Feels like a thousand years have gone by without you/ I miss someone like you/ I want to tell you secret things… I want to run to you but my legs won’t respond/ I want to know/ Exactly what you are… If you’ll get next to me/ I will have nothing left to prove… Here I am/ There you are/ There’s nothing left between us/ So dance with me/ Dance with me…”
To be sure, the changes wrought on I Love You, It’s Cool — lyrical, thematic, tempo, and production-wise — are nothing too major, but the songs are nonetheless better served by them, as are the band’s unique quirks, which have fortunately not been lost in the transition. Among the many interesting aspects of Bear in Heaven’s music that were — intentionally or not — previously drowned out is the erratic, disjointed nature of their compositions. Strangely enough, while I Love You seems to evince a more standardized pop feel, it also manages to highlight an aberrant fitfulness in the music, not unlike the impression of hearing Heitor Villa-Lobos, or perhaps Ornette Coleman for the first time (disregarding any direct comparison). Carried over from Beast Rest, it’s a key feature/factor in forging a compelling musical identity. It’s also the reason why the near-spectacular three-song stretch/arc of “Sinful Nature,” “Cool Light,” and “Kiss Me Crazy,” which fills out the middle of the album, works beautifully, with its unpredictable and idiosyncratic fusion of melodic flow and incoherence.
Whether the success of Bear in Heaven’s slightly new sound is due to losing a band member, gaining their first producer, or simply having Rhys Chatham guest on the album is, of course, up for interpretation. What’s clear is that I Love You, It’s Cool is an indication of the band’s ability to actually live up to the hype and promises that have previously, sometimes carelessly, been thrown their way.