Bear In Heaven - Biography
Bear In Heaven’s history is slightly convoluted. A number of stylistic and lineup changes were seen in order to arrive at the well deserved success the Brooklyn based art-rock band has found in 2009. Beginning in Atlanta as the solo recording project of singer and primary songwriter Jon Philpot, the Bear In Heaven project would see a release even before the actual band existed. Through synthesizing his broad influences and joining forces with likeminded friends Bear In Heaven has become one of indie rock’s most interesting and progressive bands.
Jon Philpot has long been active in underground music. Working in Atlanta as a video editor and sound designer he quietly honed the production skills that would go on to shape Bear In Heaven’s textured, studio enhanced sound. Moving to New York City at the end of the 1990s, Philpot began to work with songwriter and composer Need Thomas Windham. The duo was known as Presocratics and went on to release two experimental and highly underrated records for the Table of the Elements label in the early part of the 00s. Both albums are defined by a warped sense of song structure that continues to influence Philpot’s music.
In 2003 fellow New York via Atlanta resident Scott Herren, better known as Prefuse 73, came across Philpot’s demo recordings and offered to release an EP. The following year saw the release of Tunes Nextdoor To Songs on Herren’s Eastern Developments label. A mostly solo affair, Philpot drafted various players to contribute to the songs; San Agustin’s drummer Bryan Fielden, cellist Heather McIntosh and saxophone player Ben Davis all make appearances. The EP is comprised of four songs of densely layered and gorgeously arranged psychedelic indie rock. Traces of Chicago post-rock, avant-jazz, ambient electronica, minimalism and the mini-orchestral arrangements of Brian Wilson are obvious influences. Above all, the songs are held together by Philpot’s yearning vocals and intricate production.
Following the release of the debut EP, Philpot recruited a group of musician friends to perform the songs live. Guitarist David Daniell, bassist James Elliott, drummer Joe Stickney, guitarist Adam Wills and synth player Sadek Bazaraa comprised the band. Almost all had ties to Atlanta’s creative music scene. The group was soon writing music together and the band’s sound changed into something more sprawling and raw. Daniell soon left to pursue his solo career, leaving the band a five piece to record its proper full-length debut. 2007’s Red Bloom Of The Boom boasts a live feel that the EP lacked, with much greater noise-rock influence as felt on the Sonic Youth inspired prog sprawl of “Slow Gold” or the hypnotic kraut-pop of “Shining And Free.” Philpot’s keen arrangements are still evident on songs like the stunning “Bag Of Bags” and “For Beauty.” Another new element is the massive drum talent of Stickney. His playing obviously directs the structure of these new songs. If Red Bloom Of The Boom feels slightly haphazard, the album does have an endearingly ambitious quality and points to the heights the group would find on its next release.
Elliott left the group in 2007 to focus on his solo work as Ateleia and to briefly play with School Of Seven Bells. Following the departure Bear In Heaven, now a quartet, made the decision to concentrate on certain specific elements of its sound. Stripping back the guitar skree and focusing sharply on synth arrangements and Stickney’s incredible drumming the band began rehearsing constantly. These choices paid off. 2009’s stellar Beast Rest Forth Mouth shows a group at the height of its powers. The songs are much more melodic, with Philpot’s now confident singing gliding over pulsating electronics and Stickney’s aggressive, polyrhythmic drums creating a hypnotic tribal stomp. The tracks are shortened to perfectly showcase the catchy vocal melodies and inventive rhythms. Gone is the meandering noise and in its place we find super deep textures that serve the songs instead of obscuring them. The overall tone is unique and hard to describe, but elements of classic electronic disco, angular art-rock, dub and power pop combine for one of 2009’s best indie rock records.
From humble beginnings as a solo studio project to crafting one of Pitchfork’s top albums for 2009, Bear In Heaven have gone through changes to arrive at a singularly unique sound. By pairing back the band has found a perfect synthesis of its influences and left a wake of interesting music in its creative path. Beast Rest Forth Mouth signals the arrival of a totally innovative and progressive new rock band.