GRIZZLY BEAR Yellow House (Warp)
I was halfway into the first track on this Brooklyn-based quartets second album before I realised I was spinning it at the wrong speed: although no mention is made of the fact anywhere in the packaging, its cut at 45 r.p.m. for higher-fidelity thrills. Such is the drifting, semi-ambient, often instrumental nature of the Grizzly Bear sound. Not unlike M. Wards, their music is amorphous, organic, wispy, floaty and cant deny it ethereal; sepia-toned, its the sonic analogue of a cautious exploration of the yellowing, dust-covered rooms that figure in the albums artwork. Assembled using such non-rock instrumentation as xylophone, lap steel, glockenspiel, autoharp, banjo, clarinet, flute, saxophone, treatments and tapes, Grizzly Bears hermetically sealed soundworld is equal parts Music From Big Pink and Music For Airports.
Although Yellow House has a definite, if selective, appeal, its not strong on structure, each amenable song seemingly floating and fading imperceptibly into the next, with no delineation between them. But as soon as youre comfortably settled a clattering crescendo will sneak up behind you, like the craggy centrepiece of Lullabye, or a melody will quietly build, as does Central And Remote, into a masterclass of cross-cutting harmonising, like a re-enactment of Bohemian Rhapsody on a Portastudio. Little Brother takes an abrupt detour into an echo chamber hoedown and back again, and Colorado is all drifting vocals and a woody percussive thump thats straight outta The Weight. Puzzling but intriguing, as is becoming a trend Yellow House is diluted by its fuzzily half-remembered songs, which fail the old greying whistle test.
GRIZZLY BEAR Veckatimest (Warp)
The slowest of slow-burners, Grizzly Bear’s third album has taken months to creep into my consciousness. Ploughing a similar ambient folktronica furrow as its predecessor “Yellow House”, albeit with exponentially greater scale and ambition, the ascendance of bands such as Animal Collective and Fleet Foxes has at least provided a range of handy reference points upon which to hang Grizzly Bear’s sound, although it also makes them appear like bandwagon-jumpers when they’ve actually been innovating all along.
There’s something geographic about their music – not a huge surprise given that the album’s named after a Massachusetts island – meaning that songs like “Southern Point” swell and subside as if charting a landscape of their own invention. Consequently, they can be gripping, but are by no means obvious. “Two Weeks”, with its Beach Boys choir, sounds as baroque as the most sugary moments of Wilco’s “Summerteeth”; “Fine For Now” daubs more celestial harmonies over music reminiscent of a tricksier version of Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac at their most relaxed. “About Face” is a charming, pattering, wheezy waltz, and “Ready, Able” bursts into colour with a lovely, chiming organ motif. Their big potential pop hit is “While You Wait For The Others”, quirky and elastic-rhythmed but, by the standards of the rest of the album, still relatively close to convention. However, given that “Veckatimest” reached the Billboard top 10 (and the UK top 30) on release, it hardly seems as though Grizzly Bear are still searching for an audience. If “Veckatimest” has a weakness, it’s that it seems much more an album of glittery, memorable moments than a cohesive whole. It’s pretty and undeniably well crafted, but it’s undermined by an all-pervading air of vague inconsequence.
Warp have done a fine job in their presentation of the album, however. It arrives on two (rather flimsy, truth be told) vinyl discs accompanied by an MP3 download voucher (as ever, a welcome gesture, but the lossy format rather suffocates this music) and a 10” square booklet of appropriately evocative photography.