At first Yellow House may wash over you and not really impress. Sure, it sounds lovely, all Pet Sounds/Smile fiddly melodies and lovely harmonies, but the subtleties of this album may pass you by. But something will nag at you, forcing you to return. And it is then that you realise that the melodies have been burned into your brain allowing you to listen to what else is going on.
At first On A Neck, On A Spit will be the stand out, but soon songs like Lullaby, Easier and Colorado will reveal their rather sublime secrets.
Alot has been made about Warp's tendency to sign bands instead of electronic acts, but with Grizzly Bear they may have found a band that fits the classic Warp remit, the way Broadcast have and Maximo Park have not. By this I mean that Grizzly Bear's sound is endlessly creative, while at the same time being strangely familiar, and it can be hard to put your finger on the precise thing that makes them special, you just know they are.
There haven't been many successes from the seriously deteriorating Warp label this year, but Yellow House is most definately one of them.
I came across Grizzly Bear via Dan Rossen's brilliant - but wholly different - earlier project Department of Eagles. I was initially underwhelmed and bemused, but I persevered and can back previous reviewers who have labelled this a grower. If like me you have come to Grizzly Bear via Department of Eagles, you will want to know what, if anything, it has in common with that project. Not a great deal in fact - this shares more with the deconstructed Beach Boys harmonies and acid-spiked folk of Animal Collective, for example, or a less-prosaic version of Tunng's haunted Wicker Man folktronica. Throw in the wierd, rustic Americana of Midlake, Matt Elliot's Gallic ghostliness, the multi-instrumental dynamism and song-within-song structures of Soft Bulletin-era Flaming Lips, with a pinch of Bernard Herrmann and you might get something close. Whereas the Animal Collective reconstruct the spirit of the Beach Boys through the giddy, sometimes nauseating hyperactivity of childhood, Grizzly Bear's interpretation is spectral and autumnal, relocated from sunny California to the bleak New York woodlands.
Woodwinds, banjo, acoustic guitar, jazzy percussion and piano combine with a subtle use of electronics to create a sound that is at once creakily lo-fi and, when they want, vast and orchestral. Something in the assemlance of sounds suggests a commonality with other artists on the Warp roster, belied by the roaming formlessness of the songs. Melodic refrains segue in and out of cavernous musical interludes, many clocking up to six minutes. There are times when it slips out of focus and starts to drift into cultish incidental music, but the album is best taken as a whole, with a carefully-refined and singular atmosphere. One for winter days.
Like this? Try any of the aforementioned artists, especially Animal Collective's 'Song Tungs' or even Iron and Wine's 'Shepherd's Dog'.
Grizzly Bear have been around for awhile, but "Yellow House" is their first album as a complete, cohesive quartet band. And it's a stunning piece of work, layering together ethereal freakfolk and gentle rock'n'roll into an eerily earthy sound -- it's like listening to a folk band made up of ghosts.
It opens with a run-through of the instrumentation -- a flute smoothing out into a wobbly violin, and some tinny piano. After a moment of silence, the band slips into "Easier," with its folky banjo/guitar melody wrapped in gentle shimmering synth. And the lyrics hint at broken houses and broken loves: "I know, I know, the doors won't close/the pipes all froze/just let it go...let's recreate an easier time/because I still can't find you."
They follow it up with an earthier song, "Lullabye," which meanders uncertainly through mostly acoustic territory, but with the occasional synthy chime. The songs that follow are in this mold -- ghostly rockers and fizzly, windy ballads. Each one starts off simple and slow, but builds up into atmospheric and powerful pieces of work.
If you just hear a sample or skip through it, "Yellow House" sounds like your basic folk-rock album. Not much to listen to. But listen to some of the songs in their entirety, and the beauty of their music really starts to stick out -- it's sort of glitchy shimmery freakfolk psychedelica, with a bit of lo-fi indie-rock thrown in for good measure.
They have a dud every now and then -- the first halves of "On a Neck, On a Spit" and "Reprise" are too banjoey and straightforward to fit in. However, the rest of the time they craft their music exquisitely -- the instrumentation and vocals are layered together into hypnotic swirls, sometimes fading out to give it that ghostly sound.
The instrumentation itself is a beautiful blend of all sorts of instruments -- some straightforward guitar and restrained banjo, some echoing glockenspiel and a soft flute. And the entire album is shrouded in dark, unearthly synth from Chris Taylor, ranging from glitches to wavers, misty fuzz to a twittering sound like a moth's wings.
All four members contribute their vocals, and their intertwined, mournful voices are absolutely stunning. They could sing just about anything and make it sound pretty -- in fact, "Colorado" is mostly made up of mournful calls of the title word. The other songs usually have a few more lines than that, but are pared down to the core: "A folding chair/Sitting out by the wading pool, chlorine blue/Rush of wind passing over me/Restless nights/Chin up, cheer up/My love's another kind..."
Grizzly Bear craft a beautiful, delicate collection of freakfolky tunes with a psychedelic edge, an exquisite listen that takes a little while to sink in. "Yellow House" should be lived in.
This is a sublime record that grows on you like a tumour. As previous reviewers have said it occupies a space where spectral sounds and earthy elements collide. Yes you can trace back through Yo La Tengo and Galaxie 500 to get to the root of Grizzly Bear but this record is great in its own right. The latest record somehow tarnishes this one by virtue of its naked commercial sound - this record is a different beast all together. Its a record of half heard sounds and deja vu. I swear the first song actually doesnt ever end, it merely mutates across the rest of the record. And at the price currently on amazon its a steal. You may take a couple of listens to get into this incarnation of Grizzly Bear but if you persevere you will be rewarded in spades. This is a truly beautiful and mysterious record. A spiders web of sound. You should buy it. No doubt that this record has 5 stars running through it like a stick of rock. Essential.
Firstly, I'm shocked that Mr Solinas hasn't given this 5 stars. He's usually a pretty good judge of great music. I shall take up this matter directly!
In my opinion this is one of the most underrated albums of the new century. Trust me, this will only become better known as the years pass.
So what's it like? To me, it's like a band who treat their instruments and voices like an orchestra. Everything is meticulously constructed. They don't just play along with the song like so many bands, each harmony and instrument has a purpose, adding thoughtfully to their soundworld. And that's what makes it work. Whilst it's accepted that Knife and On A Neck On A Spit are strong highlights (the most accessible), the album is fully inspired throughout, and that's a rare thing. Strongly recommended to a baroque pop/rock listener.
Looking for a reference point? Somewhere between Fleet Foxes and Animal Collective. (If you don't know who those bands are, you're really not keeping up!)
Perhaps the moment was right, the first time I played Reprise. A very good friend's YouTube video recommendation in an e-mail. Not knowing anything about the band, the moment I played the song I knew it was uniqe. That song on its own felt like waves and wavelets rhythmically washing over a shore of pebbles.
The album, and the music on it, lives in its own time. A rare quality--the ability to naturally weave around the moment, allowing its own world materialise so intensely that each listening stops time.
A rare, unique album. Gentle, raw, beautifully structured and haunting.
I was recommended Grizzly Bear by a friend & as this one was on sale I bought it. At first I wasn't 100% sold on it but I think that was because I just had it on in the background. Now I've heard it a few times it's a firm favourite with me. It reminds me of Midlake's Van Occupanther and, as others have mentioned, Iron & Wine with it's sweeping music and interesting lyrics. Have a go and I hope it will be a grower with you too.