Bear in Heaven has always occupied an ambiguous space, somewhere between experimental indie rock and noisy, towering electronics. The band’s latest album, I Love You, It’s Cool, blurs the line even more, unapologetic in its polished, synth-driven dance aesthetic.
One could argue that’s where the band has always been headed, but this time the evolution is surprisingly pronounced. As singer/ multi-instrumentalist Jon Philpot told Spin in December, “There’s more groove, less doom.”
More like all groove, no doom. Gone are the crushing waves of dissonance and ominous chord progressions. In their place: a shimmering, ethereal sound with persistent four-on-the-floor rhythms and retro tones reminiscent of ‘80s chart toppers like Depeche Mode. Embracing its “groove” side was a risky move for the band — whose fan base is largely rooted in the rock scene — as guitarist/bassist Adam Wills readily acknowledges.
“We were semi-afraid to write a record that was too dance-y, that it was going to scare off all the rock fans of ours,” he admits. “But it seems like we bridged some sort of gap between those two worlds.” Still, Wills has moments of doubt.
“There will be people who come to the shows, like front row, and it’s some dude with a chain wallet and pink long hair. And I’m like, ‘Oh my god, has he heard the new album? It’s going to bum him out.’ Because it’s not these big, giant walls of sound as much anymore, or whatever element I’m projecting onto him that I think he likes.”
Fans, though, seem content to follow Bear in Heaven to the other side. “That is actually a specific instance,” he continues. “And the kid was dancing his ass off all night. … We’ve seen a marked difference, because we’ve been moving more onstage, which in turn makes everybody else move more.”
Considering Bear in Heaven’s constantly evolving sound, one might expect the band to be the kind of gear-nerds who obsess over new equipment and tones, constantly searching for the next definitive Bear in Heaven sound. But Wills says that’s just not practical for a band living in Brooklyn.
“Actually, Jon [Philpot] just sold a ton of stuff that we made the last two records with,” says Wills. “He was just like, ‘There’s no more sounds in these keyboards that we haven’t used.’ It’s hard to be gearheads in New York, because there’s nowhere to put all the stuff.”
Nonetheless, Wills admits that new equipment and “rediscovered old technology” is “a big part of the conversation.” They just don’t buy every cool piece of equipment.
“We could probably borrow it from a friend or rent it or something,” he says with a laugh. — D.S.
Photo by Shawn Brackbill