Bear in Heaven has never been known for a discernible sense of pace or direction. Both 2007’s Red Bloom of the Boom and 2009’s Beast Rest Forth Mouth were master classes in spacey, textured krautrock, while the streamlined synth-pop of 2012’s uneven I Love You, It’s Cool sounded like a different band altogether, morphing lead singer Jon Philpot’s ponderous vocals into an almost sensual caricature. Luckily, Bear in Heaven has returned with a renewed sense of kinetic urgency on Time Is Over One Day Old, a refreshing dose of new-wave prog retrofitted with the band’s signature offbeat subtleties.
The album’s frenetic one-two opening punch of “Autumn” and the Sung Tongs-esque “Time Between” usher in a first half that gently retreats into an amorphous comfort zone. Stretching from the tranquil “They Dream” into the elegant “The Sun and the Moon and the Stars,” the momentum recedes, ebbing a bit here, flowing a little there. It returns Bear in Heaven to the perilous unpredictability typified by their early work, with Philpot’s vocals caked in hypnotic reverb as he plays the role of de facto navigator whenever the album threatens to sail adrift.
Granted, a lot of this pointed meandering would inspire eye-rolling if this were a debut album, and even now it’s difficult to resist calling shenanigans, but Bear in Heaven has often excelled at this type of aimless bait and switch. And, as if on cue, just as Philpot seems finally ready to overdose on vague portent (“We’re never going back again,” he soothes), Time Is Over One Day Old roars back to life with a second-half surge led by the monumental chorus of “Memory Heart.” The heretofore psychedelic sprawl all but evaporates, leaving a tightly wound smorgasbord of some of Bear in Heaven’s most virtuoso krautpop. The album’s second half is energized by the electronic pulse of “Demon,” followed by “Way Out,” the one track wired with I Love You’s experimental dance DNA. But it’s the anthemic closer “You Don’t Need the World” that emerges as the true album highlight, equally captivating and seductive in its lumbering finality.
In their current form, Bear in Heaven may indeed be far more accessible than they were in the mid to late aughts when a song sporting a verse/chorus framework was the exception rather than the rule (even now it’s more of a suggestion). Nevertheless, a brazen and workmanlike confidence marks the album as a more recognizable creative evolution than its predecessor’s endearing, but ultimately canned, artistic departure.