There's something reverent, almost like a psalm, about Andrew Belle's new sophomore album, "Black Bear."
Ethereal songs such as "The Enemy," "Dark Matter" and "What it Wants" are so ornate and densely textured, they feel like stained-glass windows in a cathedral, best observed from a distance.
It makes sense, says the Chicago artist, since the record outlines his recent search for God. Or rather, his higher power, in the guise of a fierce old ursine, hungrily pursuing him through the spiritual forest.
"Growing up, I attended Christian schools, Christian churches, and my family claimed to be a Christian family," says Belle, who plays The City this weekend.
"But for some reason, it felt like something I never took ownership of. I just floated along because that was my identity."
Then textural tracks from his 2010 debut, "The Ladder," found soundtrack placement on TV shows such as "Greek," "Pretty Little Liars" and "The Vampire Diaries" — even a Microsoft Windows 7 commercial — and the success turned him into a devilish sinner.
He won't go into specifics, he says, "but there was a point three years ago where the path of destruction I was on was really catching up to me."
He spent the next few months wrestling with his faith, asking big questions. Along the way, he married his sweetheart, whom he had known since high school, and they joined the congregation of a small community church.
That's when he learned a fundamental truth about himself: He didn't choose God. God chose him. "So I had this vision in my mind of this raspy, dirty-looking bear in the woods, hunting me," he says. "And that's how it felt — like God was coming after me. Relentlessly. And it's a common thread throughout the album."
Belle doesn't tub-thump or proselytize. He's just finally accepted that he's a Christian, in the same way he understood — after graduating from business school — that songwriting was his true talent, not office work.
He despises organized religion, he says, "with its lists of do's and don'ts, and how people who adhere to those lists start to get moral superiority over other people. Christianity works the other way around — God came to earth in the form of Jesus, who died for our sins so that we could get God."
Did that metaphorical bear catch him? Belle chuckles. "He got me, man. He got me," he replies. "But, looking back, I was putting way too much stock in myself — everything was about me and my own personal glory. So thankfully, I've been given the chance to continue to do music, with that learning experience behind me. Because it's not about me and how many albums I sell."Andrew Belle
Where: Brick & Mortar Music Hall, 1710 Mission St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: $10 to $12
Contact: (415) 800-8782, www.brickandmortarmusic.com