When Bear in Heaven focuses on songwriting instead of psychedelic synth-based mood pieces, their style really works. Too bad that only happens on maybe 60% of this album.
Things start off well enough on Beast Rest Forth Mouth, the second album from Bear in Heaven. Opening track "Beast in Peace" is led by a powerful drumbeat that sticks largely to the quarter note. It gives the track a unique feel, and once Jon Philpot's high-pitched, soft vocals come in, preceding the synth and guitar, you can tell the song is a winner. Even a drum solo midway through doesn't slow the momentum, and when the song returns to form, that thumping feel drives the song to its end, with Philpot's passionate singing gliding over the top. The slightly dancier "Wholehearted Mess" follows, complete with burbling synth lines and more subtle but impressive drum work from Joe Stickney. "You Do You" is a bit of a spacey track, with echoing synths swirling through and around Philpot's vocals. Neither of these songs is quite as good as "Beast in Peace", but they are at least solid.
Next up is "Lovesick Teenagers", which sounds like a New Wave song as interpreted by aficionados of '70s psychedelia. A synth bassline gives the song its pop, while Philpot's lyrics complaining about teenage love ("lovesick teenagers don't ever die / they will live forever / even when you're too old / and you think you know more") give the song a wry tone that is missing from most of the rest of the album. Then something happens. After this strong beginning, the band seems to lose their focus. The whole middle of the album is a muddle, where the band's penchant for trippy psychedelic sounds takes over and the songwriting gets lazy. "Ultimate Satisfaction" starts off decently, but quickly becomes repetitive, and a minute-long outro kills any momentum the song had. The nearly six-minute "Dust Cloud" seems to go on for twice that long, with no discernible melody and nothing interesting going on under Philpot's chanted lyrics. Similar missteps occur in the next two tracks, and the album doesn't regain its balance until the final two songs.
Stickney's creative beats are once again on display in "Fake Out", which gives the song some much-needed tension. Thick, urgent synth chords complement Philpot's voice quite well here, and he's actually singing instead of chanting, which works much better for the band. The album finishes out with "Casual Goodbye", which has disco-style hi-hat and piles of great drum fills from Stickney. The steady, measured synth lines contrast the drumming nicely, as do the frequent tonal shifts from minor to major.
Beast Rest Forth Mouth could've been a really, really good album if the band didn't get sidetracked midway through. As it is it's a solid effort with a few true standout songs. Jon Philpot is not a particularly strong singer, but his thin tenor works well in the right setting. The band doesn't always find that sweet spot, though. On many tracks, the bass and guitar are almost nonexistent while the synth lines are mostly chords. That leaves it up to Stickney not just to give the songs a beat, but to provide most of the rhythm and forward momentum as well. Fortunately he's more than up to the task, and it's his drum work that keeps Bear in Heaven from falling into a void filled with psychedelic mood pieces.