Why you should listen to Bear in Heaven’s new album in a thunderstorm

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Bear in Heaven | Photo by  Shawn Brackbill
Bear in Heaven | Photo by Shawn Brackbill

Bear In Heaven’s latest record, Time is Over One Day Old, has a telling song called “Dissolve the Walls.” It song starts off as a faraway confusion of conversation, blitzy synth running down a long tunnel as an upbeat womanly chorus chants: “Let the walls dissolve/ till there’s no room at all/ there’s no ceiling, no floor/ no windows, no door.”

Given this particular track and the cover art of the 2014 album (on which I can’t help but see a galactic rolling paper), you might think you could easily file it under ‘other worldly weirdness,’ right next to 2001: A Space Odyssey. But the group never has stopped with just one sonic style compartment, so you really can’t file this album as a whole under anything (and not next to any of the group’s previous releases, either).

“We’re always talking about output or creation, so it’s certainly not this, ‘alright, let’s definitely make this an effort to strip things back…’” says Adam Wills, guitarist and co-founder of Bear in Heaven, and writer of the song. The group, which headlines Johnny Brenda’s tonight, began 10 years ago as a project between Wills and co-founder/vocalist Jon Philpot. Aside from an experimental folk-noise recording project of Philpot’s, Bear In Heaven was the first group either musicians had ever been a part of. Wills says that 10 years ago the guys had no real goals aside from getting together, getting stoned and making noise, but after the popularity of 2009’s Beast Rest Forth Mouth, other things began to materialize.

That 2009 release could be considered more cohesive than this year’s because the songs sound more like individual puzzle pieces, fitting together to become something larger. It’s definitely considered pivotal, as it was the record that put them on the global map, stimulating their touring career. On Beast, flitting jolts of energy buzz and explode, and these sounds are spilled over definite harmonies (or, at the very least, patterns). 2012’s I Love You, it’s Cool, still had that math-noise mechanic, but it was brightened by happily droney, psych riffs and a few shinier elements.

This time around, with Time is Over One Day Old, you hear the guys (and drummer Jason Nazary, who joined the group shortly after its previous release 2 years ago) as a band that’s grown up and kind of taken the big brother role. They’re tighter and cleaner, and while their new tracks are a little less easy to configure into a cohesive album, they’re held together by a new level of expertise and confidence that’s only gained after winning a few games in a row.

“When you’re in the process of creating something like this for us you’re just kind of blinded by the process. At the same time there is a spirit to the band [where] we never like to do the same thing. We don’t want to repeat ourselves,” Wills says over the phone during the thumpy, wet minutes before last week’s incoming thunderstorm.

“The previous record was a little bit brighter, upbeat, more fun maybe and then this one was just… we wrote it during the winter, and a lot of things were going on in our lives that weren’t necessarily too fun and it kind of just came out in the music,” he goes on.

Wills likes to talk, about the tangible and the not-so-much.

“We did learn to really appreciate space and [the ability to let] things breathe, not to be afraid to let the parts be nekked where they should be nekked, letting some ideas stick out….” he says.

To say this album is only about space, though, would be to say nothing at all and assume too quickly — much like putting it in the out-of-this-world ‘Space Odyssey’ compartment. This record that has a lot more to it than space and a bunch of time to make it. As Wills says, despite the more varied, more dialed-down experience of this record when compared to previous, “There’s so much shit going on in the music still.”

A good way to hear the shit going on is in the dark, when the record can sound like you’ve just closed the door on a muted 90’s warehouse rave (“If I Were To Lie”), or you’ve clicked the channel to a badass Nine Inch Nails/Johnny Marr Volkswagen commercial (“Autumn”), or you’re brushing your cheek with velvet-soft opium poppies (“The Sun and the Moon and the Stars”).

Another good way is during a thunderstorm — when rich synth and textured beats patter (“Time Between”), and the gorgeousness of “Dissolve the Walls” comes in like rolling clouds of cold darkness.

Of course, not every song on the album is a hit. Each one has its moments, but just like most mature album efforts from bands with a 10+ year career, there’s some weight distributed here and there that could have been cut. “The Sun and the Moon and the Stars” is one of those pockets. While it does evoke some sort of heroin dream, it’s easy to dismiss it in the scheme of things due to its anonymity. And ultimately, heroin is boring.

The construction of the songs from the new album could relate back to Wills’ and Philpot’s professional experience as video editors, working on TV shows, commercials, documentaries. This is the job Wills says the guys do six months out of the year, when they’re not touring. It’s a job that requires the ability to jump in and out of a variety of different compartments to make the work materialize and make the pieces fit together. Maybe that’s where they get it from.

All of that said, no matter where you listen to Time is Over One Day Old — in thunder, darkness, light, space — what you’re hearing is a band on a 10-year track to continually break from any of the constructs they’ve previously set for themselves. And because they’ve been successful in doing so, it’s going to be hard to find all of their material wrapped up in one nice, clean, perfect little box.

Bear in Heaven performs tonight at Johnny Brenda’s, 1201 North Frankford Ave. Tickets and information on the 21+ show can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.

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