French electro-pop wizard Anthony Gonzalez and his band M83 broke through to the mainstream in a big way with last year’s fantastic Hurry Up, I’m Dreaming, a double album designed to play as an intimate soundtrack to each individual listener’s Life As Cinema. The new record by Brooklyn trio Bear in Heaven, I Love You, It’s Cool, functions on a similar aesthetic, though where M83’s operatic rock shoots for the (distant, intergalactic) moon, Bear in Heaven wraps its romantic tunes in an atmospheric gauze. If M83 obsess over capturing the thrills of teenage melodrama, Bear in Heaven focus on the twenty-something version of those feelings, a bit more muted but still potent in their own way.
The band had its own breakout moment with 2009’s Beast Rest Forth Mouth, a record that touched on zeitgeist elements (looping, tribal percussion and grooving synths) without merely aping them. I Love You, It’s Cool moves the band’s sound in something of a lateral direction, not rewriting its playbook so much as emphasizing different strengths this time around. Take a track like “Warm Water”, which seems schizophrenic in the best way possible, its personality split between a slow-pulsing, dreamy electro number and a rhythm-centric, synth-pop ballad. Much of the material here shares similar DNA, with the band using its synths for wall-of-sound atmospherics as much as for quick-biting hooks.
In this way, the record takes its time opening up, much like the band’s wonderful marketing gimmick leading up to I Love You, It’s Cool’s release: they slowed the album down to play over the course of 2,700 hours in the months before its release, creating a strangely pleasant drone. The band, perhaps unwisely, frontloads the record with its most straightforward material. Opener “Idle Heart” has a simple, hypnotic bassline that locks into perfect step with a similarly insistent beat, while Jon Philpot’s easy tenor weaves around the track’s inviting synths. “The Reflection of You”, the album’s strongest standalone song, uses huge synths to give heft to drummer Joe Stickney’s steady disco rhythm. The bridge in the song’s middle section feels positively transcendent, Philpot adding a welcome flash of grit in his voice when he sings, “Look in my eyes / And you’ll see the reflection of you.” It’s the song that best captures the graceful romanticism of the record’s finest moments.
But listeners looking for an album full of ten “The Reflection of You’s” will be disappointed. I Love You, It’s Cool has other pulse-quickening moments — the shift into dancefloor workout in “Cool Light”, Philpot’s alluring vocal performance in “Kiss Me Crazy” — but the record simply wants to be something more than a singles-based pop album. On that score, it doesn’t quite succeed. Songs like “Space Remains” and “Sinful Nature” are impressive pieces of sound, all titanic waves of synthesizers crashing over pounding drums, with Philpot’s voice just cresting through underneath. However, when these songs are sharing space with the album’s diamond-sharp rock songs, they can’t help but feel more like interludes than fully-formed creations of their own merits. When Bear in Heaven’s desire for duality — the confluence of ambience and pop — succeeds, it does so brilliantly. Ironically, it only manages these heights half the time.