Bear in Heaven: Beast Rest Forth Mouth / Beast Rest Forth Mouth Remixed
The remix album tradition continues, with familiar results...
Ahh, the deluxe re-issue with bonus remix disc. Are these necessary? Never. Are they worth listening to? Sometimes, but once usually suffices, and that's usually only if you're a hardcore fan to begin with. If your album is good enough to warrant purchasing a version with a remix disc, there's a good chance you should just follow the "if it ain't broke" rule and let the original mixes stand.
Bear in Heaven have such an album in Beast Rest Forth Mouth. With their percolating synthesizers, tribal drums, and a slight prog/krautrock edge, they have carved a niche in the modern indie rock quilt not from their unique sounds but from the way they combine them. You could point to the futuristic electro production as somewhere in the vein of contemporaries like Yeasayer; there are moments when the high, earnest vocals and wide-open sound might remind you of Animal Collective. Beast Rest Forth Mouth sounds eerily its own animal – there is a chilly, emotionally distant quality to the bare boned synth arrangements, but Jon Philpot's vocals carry a sense of raw urgency and hell of a lot of emotion in their own right. The repetitive kratrock drones would, in the hands of a less effective band, border on numbing, but here they are transportive, thanks in large part to drummer Joe Stickney, whose parts avoid the trappings of programming, instead offering constantly evolving landscapes of percussion, full of subtle human touches and glimpses of startling power.
Disc two is no revelation. A sign of a good remix is not sounding like a remix. A handful of these actually manage to do so. Studio's take on "You Do You" replaces the snare-heavy drum kit and wall of synths of the proggy original with a funky guitar/synth groove that casts a completely new light on the track, somehow squeezing out a danceable pop song from a highly unlikely source. Deru's "Deafening Love" gets the job done, mainly because it doesn't fuck around too much, adding subtle pulses and electronics, leaving the vocal mainly untouched.
Most of the remixes don't fare as well. "Beast in Peace (The Hundred in the Hands Beast in Beat Remix)" is the worst offender, adding what could be the most generic and uninspired programmed beat in remix history, removing the original song's soul and musical innards. The only thing missing is an anonymous rapper yelling "REMIX!" OK, it's not awful – around halfway through, things pick up, right around the time Philpot's vocals are introduced. A minute or so later, he disappears, and so does the track's promise. Wait – that seems curious...
Ironically, the mixed quality of the remix disc manages to cement how good Beast Rest Forth Mouth is in its original form. For all the programmed beats and swirling effects, the most striking elements of the remixes are those that are most familiar. The vocal melody in "Lovesick Teenagers" is still euphoric, despite the obtrusive over-editing (Enough with the echo, already!) in the Twin Shadow take. I found myself grooving along to the Pink Skull version of "Wholehearted Mess", and while I partly chalk this up to the newly inserted bass, I realized what mostly had me going was the nifty synth part, which remains largely unaltered from the studio version.
There are bells. There are whistles. There is little that either enhances or sheds new light on the original takes.
If you missed Best Rest Forth Mouth the first time around, don't make the same mistake twice. These are songs that deserve to be heard, but only in the right context.