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Prog wild

The controlled chaos of Bear in Heaven
By MICHAEL BRODEUR  |  March 31, 2010


Grrrab bag: Bear is the new wolf. By Michael Brodeur.
Let me just assure you, right off, that after this, I promise never, ever, to talk to you about this year’s SXSW again, but check it out: so a couple of weeks ago, we’re at SXSW, coming around the bend of Red River and Sixth Street — right in the middle of the afternoon, and right in the thick of the opening day shitshow. Imagine the sound of it: a whole street teeming with people and lined with bars on either side, every room and rooftop exploding with the sound of a thousand random bands. Storms of unsynchronized drum fills, unleashed bass lines, wild solos, and lost vocals stray from the safety of their songs into the street, making us all really want beer.

In one sense, this violent mess of sound was the perfect expression of what we were all doing there: forging together a vast communal effort to schedule some abandon, letting the sound we love spread and roar out of control like some citywide bonfire (that stops burning around 4 am every night). In another sense, it was just really fucking loud everywhere.

Having just arrived and not having had any tequila or Tecate yet, I was feeling it in the latter way. We passed by a tossed-up tent-and-chain-link venue with a long line jutting into the street, and from between the portajohns came one of the lowest frequencies I’d ever heard — you could hear their plastic locks rattle and feel it on the surface of your shirt. I couldn’t see who was on stage, but the sound was suddenly overtaken by a galloping synth line that jumped the fence like a charge of horses. So, either Pink Floyd were covering Bear in Heaven — I recognized the song right off as my B-in-H fave, “You Do You” — or Bear in Heaven (who come to the Middle East next Thursday) were not only playing but, holy shit, sounded a lot more massive than I thought they would.

We stood and listened for a while, and once the set was done, we walked off to find tacos, and despite my never actually seeing them, that one song was a highlight of the trip. The Bear in Heaven sound stands out from the crowd: their penchant for epic elegance recalls the best moments of Talk Talk, and their post-industrial tribal vibes conjure This Heat. But like the street outside, their songs are as energized by utter chaos as they are controlled by precise organization. Their latest, Beast Rest Forth Mouth (Hometapes), is like a chance encounter between prog and humility — there are no guitar solos, its vast sonic scope is kept in four-minute pop-song check, and its catchiest moments double as its most adventurous.

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