As pretentious as it is to describe listening to an album as an experience of any sort, with Bear in Heaven's second album, Beast Rest Forth Mouth, it is begrudgingly accurate. The music has such a denseness to it that it actually feels enveloping, and vocalist Jon Philpot's voice gets treated to just the right amount of echo effects, enhancing the overall mood without pushing it over the top. Bear in Heaven's unabashedly psychedelic sound is presented quite tastefully, and a part of that is how little they limit themselves to the tag, opting rather to take the tag with them as they explore different facets of alternative music. The band touches upon traditional indie, shoegaze, folk, and even alternative dance, giving their unique touch to each and incorporating them into their thick sound, making for a strangely muddled yet inviting body of songs.
Drumming that sounds almost tribal leads into the opening Beast in Peace, which has a bit of a stumble in the beginning with Philpot's directionless sounding vocal, but the song kicks into high gear very quickly, and the album relents very little from this point on. Bright synths, rollicking drums, buried guitars, and echoed vocals take over from here, armed with startling melodies that make one think of the weak beginning as a red herring. This is followed by a trio of tracks, Wholehearted Mess, You Do You, and Lovesick Teenagers, all of which sound like upbeat dance numbers that have been wound down and drowned in psychedelia. If handled differently, the hooks in these songs feel like they could easily become electro staples: catchy, well textured and layered, and complex without being confusing. In this band's hands, however, everything is slowed to a crawl and inundated with wave after wave of distorted synths and clean guitar, giving off an aura of pure euphoria even with its borderline melancholic sound.
The fuzzy and soaring Ultimate Satisfaction serves as a good buffer between these early tracks and the later, more desolate sounding ones, with a chorus starting with the oddly appropriate phrase "Coming down." The more dream pop embracing second half peaks with Fake Out, which is as beautiful as it is unrelentingly desolate. Philpot's vocals sound almost silken here, which makes the change in note progressions actually sound a bit sharp, and the dark synths are downright meltworthy.
There are still a few things that take from the songs' power. Philpot's awkward vocal pattern on Dust Cloud distracts a bit from the hazing beauty of the mesh of bending guitars, washed synths, and hovering echoes, and when the song breaks down to just his words and the percussion, it seems that the intention was to build up tension, but instead it loses all its momentum and is forced to build it all back up again. Another odd thing is that quite a few of the songs end with a certain abruptness, presumably for dramatic effect. The problem is that with as often as it happens on Beast, it begins to lose its desired effect, and by the time the technique is employed by the closing Casual Goodbye, it has more or less lost its meaning. The good thing about this, though, is that most listeners will be too immersed in the album to notice. I know I certainly was on my first few listens.
The Best New Music award that Beast Rest Forth Mouth received from Pitchfork is quite well founded. A masterpiece it's not, but it does a surprisingly good job with the old "take you on a journey" notion that albums used to have back in the sixties and seventies. From warm and fuzzy to dark and bleak, Beast runs quite an impressive emotional gamut without resorting to bombast, which is a remarkable accomplishment unto itself. Definitely a journey worth taking.