[13 August 2014]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
I know we’re supposed to act like we know everything about every band we like, but the reality is often different, especially in our information-overload era. I’ve enjoyed each of Bear in Heaven’s albums, since their debut full-length in 2007. I’ve listened to each of their albums 10-20 times apiece. I’ve seen the band play live. Yet I don’t know the band members’ names, don’t know that much about them. If asked to name songs by them, I’d probably come up with three or four titles, at most. I sing along more with the sound of the vocals than the words; I’m not sure I’m ever paying that much attention to their lyrics. But I’m always absorbed by their music.
With Bear in Heaven, that makes a special kind of sense to me. There’s an anonymity to their music that’s part of their charm, even if it could easily be mistaken as a flaw. As listeners, we’re going with the flow, riding a groove that’s less about the details than the overall movement and feeling. That feels true in an even more unique way on their new, fourth album Time Is Over One Day Old.
“Years and years and years and years are gone without a trace,” Jon Philpot sings on “Time Between”; the album overall seems concerned with the flow of time, and musically seems aimed at capturing its elusive, bittersweet and ever-moving qualities. Their music stretches out and spaces out enough that it is still liable to be compared to Pink Floyd, prog-rock and other music I’m inclined to not like, while still not sounding like those to me at all. Songs like “The Sun and the Moon and the Stars” feel overtly untethered from earth, light as can be, but yet are also filled with very specific, unusual, tangible sounds.
The layered groove on Time Is Over One Day Old is notably smoother, less showy than on their last album I Love You, It’s Cool, but is still definitely a groove. It’s overall sadder, gentler, but still on the move, even in its stillest moments. The first track “Autumn” instantly puts me in dance-music mode. But not in an escapist, let-yourself-go way; more like you’re stuck in a trance and can’t break free. That feeling resonates with the lyrics, describing a pressure that’s bearing down, a rumbling coming from your chest.
The conundrum there, of body music that’s filled with sadness, with interior thoughts and concerns, is captured well by “If I Were to Lie”, which references suicide, falling apart, and being “better off alone”, while also making me think about breakdancing, a lot. On this song and others, they find a type of groove that lends itself to moments where the music suddenly drops lower to let the singer focus on expresses absolute heartbreak, like the stretch partway through “They Dream” where he regretfully intones, “I could have had it all.”
On the last two tracks, “Dissolve the Walls” and You Don’t Need the World”, these ruminations turn into incantations of pessimism and escape. There’s a gorgeous negativity to the former song, where everything is dissolving. And to the latter, where at one point they outright declare, “the world is full of shit.” The dissolution of the world, the removing yourself from everything, becomes almost a prayer, not feeling like fury and hate and anger but like a beautiful letting-go and rising-beyond.
There’s an incomplete quality in those songs, and in the album, that seems central to the overall themes and mission of the album; one that’s likely to be misinterpreted as inadequacy. On Time Is Over One Day Old, there’s always something missing, a mystery hanging in the air, yet it’s the band’s most satisfying album yet.