Grizzly Bear | Yellow House (Warp)

cd_grizzlybearCredit not just the group songwriting on display here, but those painfully tight, communal harmonies that decorate each song. They're a bit too dark and desperate to garner the overly familiar Beach Boys comparisons—but they're just as effective.

 

 

 

 

Welcome to the final stop on the Grizzly Bear Hype Express, with service all the way from "obscure lo-fi acoustic project" to "chic indie accessory." All the heavy-hitting webzines and blogs have already had the opportunity to slobber all over this Brooklyn quartet, so consider this review a friendly reminder: if you've somehow forgotten or overlooked the group's Yellow House in '06, be advised to put it on the top of your "to-listen" list for 2007.

The story, by this point, is practically archival: group mastermind Edward Droste puts his woozy bedroom musings to tape on Horn of Plenty, gets some word of mouth, rounds out his lineup, and returns to his childhood home at Cape Cod to record the follow-up that will beguile hipsters worldwide. Critics have had an absolute field day drawing up the proper adjectives and comparisons for this record, and it's not incredibly difficult to see why. Yellow House plays like a maze of stylistic corridors, easy to get lost in, yet carefully constructed to interlock and work cohesively. Just like another album named for its domestic recording site—the Band's ageless Music From Big PinkYellow House uses distinctive folk sounds for its foundations, but builds upon them with a startling sense of ingenuity, rendering those Americana influences practically unrecognizable upon replay.

Opener "Easier" immediately establishes the album's hazy atmosphere and unique internal logic. From an opening swell of woodwinds emerges a brief snippet of melancholy saloon piano, which itself gives birth to an ethereal acoustic segment of coos and cascading xylophones. Eventually, a brief fragment of a folksy banjo-driven song emerges: "I know, I know, the doors won't close, the pipes all froze, just let it go." And indeed the band does, as the song quickly retreats back to its ambient origins. It's a cryptic telegram, towing the line between light and dark, arty and earthy. In short, like the rest of the album, it's worthy of frequent reexamination.

But ultimately, it's just a warm-up. The group hits its stride with the brooding harmonies of "Knife," and essentially doesn't look back from there. "Central and Remote" and "Little Brother" impressively alternate between quiet claustrophobia and expansive vistas of sound, once again giving reviewers cause to retreat to their home thesaurus. Maybe one of these two tracks is the definitive album highlight, but that title could easily go to half the tracks presented here. The fact that Grizzly Bear's sound walks such a high-risk tight rope and consistently manages to surprise stands as a minor miracle. Credit not just the group songwriting on display here, but those painfully tight, communal harmonies that decorate each song. They're a bit too dark and desperate to garner the overly familiar Beach Boys comparisons—but they're just as effective.

Closing statement "Colorado" puts those vocals at center stage, as the group recites the song title in the round, the intensity of their delivery rising and falling before the album fades into ether. It's an intriguing parting shot, which of course gives rise to the inevitable "what next?" question. For now, it's a trip back to Track 1. I could hang out in this house for awhile. A | Jeremy Goldmeier

RIYL: Animal Collective, TV on the Radio

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