Grizzly Bear - Yellow House

"In a way Grizzly Bear sound a bit like Akron/Family's younger, more placid brother. A group of men singing (often together) to tunes that are not particularly memorable, nor that go anywhere in particular, but are peculiarly beguiling nonetheless."

Grizzly Bear – Yellow House (Warp)

 

Yellow House opens like The Beach Boys on Mogadon and quickly mutates into Pianola music from the twenties before finally finding its stride. The song is Easier and when it really begins features brushed drums, a soft and blurry voice, a banjo and all manner of subtle effects. It is hard to pin down its influences – imagine, if you will, a room where music has been played for generations, and that the music has seeped into the walls. Someone decides to strip the wallpaper in the room and the music that has been played over those years is released all at once. It isn't identifiable with a particular time, and it sounds neither dated nor modern. I'm not sure this analogy has helped but never mind.

 

Suffice it to say that Grizzly Bear, in being somehow timeless, are very much of their time. No self-respecting band in this day and age can afford to be without glockenspiel, banjo, laptop and flute and Grizzly Bear are no exception. I haven't seen them live but you can also bet that they take it turns to play most of the instruments. This isn't a criticism, by the way. If post rock turned out to be a detour on the path of modern music rather than a new and exciting direction, bands such as Tortoise (who, let's be honest, were post rock) at least encouraged people to think beyond guitar, bass and drums. Whilst we always need groups that use these primal instruments we never need as many as we end up with. Post rock sadly led to Math Rock - the cul-de-sac at the end of the detour. Bands such as Grizzly Bear enjoyed the scenery on the detour but have decided to forge a new path of their own.

 

In fact it makes me wonder just how influential Mercury Rev's Deserter's Songs was. At the time it seemed like a wonderful curio – a timeless summation of much of modern and not so modern American music that nonetheless had a sound all of its own. Whilst much loved it seemed highly unlikely that it would inspire anyone else to attempt to create such a fusion. Yellow House, whilst essentially timeless, is, as I say also of its time. In a way Grizzly Bear sound a bit like Akron/Family's younger, more placid brother. A group of men singing (often together) to tunes that are not particularly memorable, nor that go anywhere in particular, but are peculiarly beguiling nonetheless. Whereas Akron/Family have a tendency to sabotage some of their songs Grizzly Bear are more content to maintain the sense of mood rather than to play with it.

 

Knife moves through about four or five stages – it starts off like a straightforward, laidback song before heading off for a funky brass interlude. Eventually it all breaks down to a detuned piano and some haphazard drumming. On Central and Remote they show that they can make some noise whilst Plans sounds quite Gorky-esque. Wonky male harmonies, some whistling, and the sound of horses' hooves in the background give way at one point to some slowed down oompah brass. It is perhaps best not to think of these as a collection of songs as a collection of snippets, strung together to create a collage of tunes and melodies and styles. At times, I suppose, one thinks that they might just be a little too clever for their own good, and that they have been unable to properly focus their undoubted abilities. I think this would be unkind and, as songs such as Little Brother attest to, Grizzly Bear are capable of producing intricate and engaging music.

 

Words: Chris Dawson.