Monday, 4 September 2006

Grizzly Bear, Yellow House

4Central and Remote
5Little Brother
8On a Neck, On a Spit

My Review of Yellow House

Choose your definition...

The grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis), also known as the silvertip bear, is a subspecies of brown bear (Ursus arctos) that lives in the uplands of western North America.

Grizzly Bear is a Brooklyn-based indie rock band!

One thing the bear and the band have in common is I admire them both, although have yet to encounter either in the flesh. That aside, it’s a slightly misleading name for such an urbane outfit from the most cosmopolitan city in the world.

Currently on Warp Records and consisting of Daniel Rossen (songwriting/guitar), Ed Droste (songwriting/guitar), Chris Taylor (bass/woodwinds/electronics/vocals) and Christopher Bear (drums/vocals). The band employs traditional and electronic instruments, ranging from a recorder to a laptop, and all four members contribute vocals. Their sound is categorized as experimental rock, folk rock, or just indie rock, and is most dominated by the use of acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies.

Yellow House is the band’s second album, but the first recorded as a real quartet, and arguably the beginning of the Grizzly Bear we know. The title come from Edward Droste’s mother's house where it was recorded, and where I presume the photos that dominate the booklet are taken, although this isn’t explicitly stated.

The first thing to be said is that I missed this for a year (I’m a music fan, not a critic so I don’t get everything dropping on my doormat at the time of release!) Here’s the thing... the band’s name and the soft-toned album cover didn’t trigger my alerts. However, finally I happened across their sound and was compelled to obtain this CD.

So what does it sound like? Not like the cover art, and with little resemblance to grizzly bears! Ostensibly this is a band of guitar, bass, keyboard and drums, but that does little to prepare you for the sound they make. Yes, that’s the instrumentation, but these instruments and many others (piano, xylophone, glockenspiel, autoharp, banjo, clarinet, flute, saxophone) played by the band feel like they’re orchestrated rather than simply played, you’ll rarely hear the drummer keeping a steady background rhythm for long, his percussion is very much part of the orchestra. Add in their accomplished harmonies and we have an intriguing brew for baroque pop fan.

The flute & wind ensemble that kicks off Easier instantly shows this is nor your normal band. Folk? Rock? Pop? Wind, electronics, glockenspiel, finger picking, brushed percussion, and effortless harmonies. The song is more of a prelude than a complete song, a framework onto which they lay their beguiling sounds.

Lullabye teases. It’s moody, not willing to fully reveal itself. Grizzly Bear prove themselves masters of the half-song, just enough of a framework on which to lay their awesome musical structures.

Knife is the band’s signature tune to date, a portentious drama let by a beautifully fat-toned electric guitar. For the first time on this CD we have a familiar verse-chorus structure.

Central and Remote sounds like a madrigal reimagined by Elliott Smith, the breathy intakes of breath seem almost a homage to the late singer.

Little Brother pits a picked banjo and fluttering flutes against a vocal ensemble that evokes the swirling south seas with a sprinking of Weill.

Plans shows there’s no drop in inspiration yet, a bizarre 2/4 tune with a rude tenor saxophone pumping out as much rhythm as the drummer. With the sax, soaring harmonies and diliberate drama, I puts me in mind of Supertramp, and it’s not often I say that!

Marla is dominated initially by its atmospheric waltz time upright piano The strings arranged by Owen Pallett are effective, giving the piece a nostalgic ghostly echo. Then a vocal tune and harmony appears that seems lift straing from Dark Side of the Moon, except here the music is more interesting.

On a Neck, On a Spit is perhaps the most upbeat track, and apart from its acoustic guitar riff makes it difficult to say this is a folk band as they are often labelled.

Each day, spend it with me now, All my time, spend it with me now, But each day spend it with you now, All my time, spend it with you now, But out here, no one can hear me, Out hear no one can hear me

Reprise is a subtly gorgeous, harmonically rich song, led by a Sufjaneque banjo riff.

My love's another kind. From the first morning light, I can follow along, chance to stumble and find, what turns out to be wrong. And my love's another kind. From the top, children yell. You can't talk to me now. You can search for a while, when you're rumbling around.

Colorado, has a fugal harmony dominating its stately six minutes. An utterly satisfying final track to this CD, an atmospheric masterpiece.