You can tell a lot about a band by its name, sometimes. Bear In Heaven, at least, certainly formulated a moniker worth stopping to probe. Silly on the literal level, but with a cryptically somber phonetic underbelly (barren heaven), it so nicely reflects the contradictory parts and witty self-awareness that characterize the Brooklyn trio.
(This is not to touch the playful enigma that is the title of their last, critically acclaimed, record, Beast Rest Forth Mouth.)
Undoubtedly, Bear In Heaven possesses a sense of humor. Consider the group’s latest gesture: streaming their upcoming album, I Love You, It’s Cool, months prior to its release date … and slowed down by a factor of 400,000%. Both a satirical jab at pre-release hype fests and a genuine artistic maneuver, this strange offering is typical of the band.
For all their self-conscious cleverness, though, Bear In Heaven’s music is in no way flippant or pranksterish. Rather, they produce a distinctly serious brand of psychedelic indie rock. No yelps, no kaleidoscopic arpeggiating. Instead, frontman John Philpot’s voice flutters above tightly linear, brick-by-brick constructions of minor-key guitar and synth.
It might be called pleasurably overcast, in the way that The Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreamin‘” is.
What results is a timeless variety of pop that flirts with new wave and even folk, but with due distance. Genre, Bear In Heaven appears to know, can be a back hole. In spite of it, the band has produced lasting, singular gems like “Beast in Peace” and “Lovesick Teenagers.”
There is thus far little evidence of what I Love You, It’s Cool will sound like (you can listen to the super-slow version, but something tells me it won’t be very revealing). The quality of Bear In Heaven’s past efforts, however, makes the upcoming work an object of anticipation. Moreover, this is a band whose music always charges, never dawdles. Their live show, I bet, will be a good one.
Justice (4/17 at the Fox Theater, Oakland · Sold Out – start Craigslisting!)
Justice‘s sophomore album, Audio, Video Disco, does not much benefit from comparison to its globally beloved predecessor, † – not because it is so much worse, or because it is utterly out of left field (though people generally seemed to find both of these true), but because it is founded on a very weird artistic choice, period: the resurrection of prog.
Audio, Video, Disco dives head first into the 70s genre – the one, should your memory need refreshing, belonging to the likes of Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Yes, Genesis, and Rush. You know it when you hear it: grand, vaguely classically-inspired compositions, executed with a liberal array of rock ‘n roll flourishes (show-off riffing, pedals galore, impressive-verging-on-gaudy agglomerations of sonic textures).
The album’s two instrumental tracks illustrate the similarity best. Epic opener “Horsepower” drags prog into the 21st century, its midsection ribbed with bellowing, patently Justice synths and a good amount of dance appeal. “Canon,” on the other hand, is weed-reeking jean jackets and laser shows all the way.
Given the never-ending nostalgia luncheon that is today’s music scene, this sort of 20th century digging would seem par for the course. However, prog makes for a particularly odd choice, because it held such a specific objective – to elevate rock to a more esteemed status through the introduction of more expansive concepts and instrumental complexity. How the early implementation of this project (certainly an ongoing one) is relevant, Justice leaves us with no clue.
Intellectual considerations notwithstanding, though, Audio, Video, Disco sounds freakin’ awesome. The sheer decadence of its sonic play is an album-long pleasure in and of itself, and songs like “New Lands” have wonderful sing-along potential. While there is nothing as preposessingly danceable as “D.A.N.C.E.” or “Phantom” on the album, “Helix” is a decent enough reprise of Justice’s signature electro-disco jam.
Time will either vindicate or continue ravaging Audio, Video, Disco. Either way, it has the makings of a seriously fun, characteristically epic live show.