Fuzz-rockers Grizzly Bear know how to keep people's attention until their next album -- in this case, putting out an album's worth of odds and ends.
And "Friend EP" is no more or less than that -- a jumble of covers (both theirs and other people's), alternate versions, and even a demo. It has one dud track, but the rest are pretty much mellow, arty little gems, sometimes rendered into something almost unrecognizable.
One of the biggest things here is the alternate versions of their songs -- it starts with the rippling, dreamlike, almost celestial version of "Alligator," as well as an electric-edged "Little Brother" and smoothly flowing "Shift." The final song is a lo-fi, home-recorded rendition of "Deep Blue Sea," which relies heavily on strummed acoustic guitar and faint whistling.
The only sour note is the Terrible vs. Nonhorse: Sounds Edit remix of "Plans," which is basically a big squiggle of psychotic flute, clatters, blown fuses, doorbells, and what sounds like a banjo dissolving.
Grizzly Bear also turn out a spooky, weirdly wistful cover of Carole King's "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)". Additionally they also toss out a little demo called "Granny Diner," an ambient cluster of fuzz, meandering guitar, with a few ripples of soft organ and mournful vocals near the end. Not a bad song, but you can hear why it didn't make the cut.
And finally, there's a trio of bands covering Grizzly Bear's songs -- Band of Horses, CSS, and Atlas Sound. CSS rework "Plans" into a tight electronic squiggly dancefest, while Band of Horses go in the opposite direction, turning the same song into a music-hall country tune. And Atlas Sound turns "Knife" into a beautiful, hypnotically ambient pop tune.
"Friend" is not an EP in the sense of being short, but in the sense of not really being an album -- Grizzly Bear crammed plenty of material on here, and while it doesn't give quite the satisfied feeling of "Yellow House" or "Horn of Plenty," it's made up of individual songs that are, mostly, brilliant reminders of why we love them.
Their songs have the usual components of their music -- ringing guitar, flickering organ, subtle drums, bass, some synth, often buried under a layer of shifting fuzz. Even the angular edges of "Little Brother" doesn't disrupt their signature sound, and the smooth vocals all four contribute adds to their mournful, slightly dreamlike ambience.
In fact, they only really have problems in the aforementioned "Plans" remix, and the long stretch of verrrrrrryyyy sloooowwwwww buildup in "Granny Diner" before getting to the brilliant final two minutes. And the other bands do a good job adding their distintive sounds to Grizzly Bear too -- folky banjo, rapid techno, and a darker dreamy pop sound.
"Friend" is basically a collection of odds and ends, cobbled from Grizzly Bear and their pals. And until they come out with another album, it'll have to tide me over.