Graham Reid | | 2 min read
The only problem New York's Grizzly Bear have as far as I can tell is that they are part of rock culture and, as with Fleet Foxes, are clearly a world away from any expectation that the word "rock" still carries.
While stumbling towards descriptive phrases for this album some writers have alighted upon "baroque pop", "psychedelic folk" and so on. So here's the thing: they are in that fascinating lineage which runs from Sixties bands such as The Left Banke and the Association through tunesmiths like America in the Seventies (listen to the opener and deny that connection if you will) as well as having an ear of similar Anglofolk references as Fleet Foxes . . . and a twist on a melody that wouldn't shame early Split Enz.
Yes, they are "baroque" in the sense they layer and stack up vocals (very Brian Wilson/Beach Boys in that regard also) and they have a light touch and poetic sensibility which is alarmingly seductive. After the quasi-choral opening on Dory the lyrics are "wildly coherent in a watery deep, we'll drop her down to the bottom . . ." Those are typically allusive and elusive lines in these lyrics.
They are also out on that tangent of alt.folk/indie rock -- so it was no surprise they would appear on the Dark Was the Night compilation of earlier this year put together by two of the guys from The National (Elsewhere had and still has their Deep Blue Sea as the sample track).
Grizzly Bear are sonic perfectionists and that might be a hinderance to some enjoyment: but songs such as the hushed and haunting About Face (aural references to Simon and Garfunkel harmonies, they've appeared at a Paul Simon tribute concert) and All We Ask (Tim Finn me-hears) require this kind of vacuum-sealed approach, but that means you notice when it actually tries to be "different" (the almost self-conscious guitar interpolations on Hold Still).
Out of this arty conflation of poised styles -- a very different prog-rock -- it is hard to imagine a break-out single that will seduce the masses (as with Fleet Foxes, this is critics' music in the first instance). But the bright Two Weeks with its stabbing keyboard hook and tumbling drums behind the soaring, almost Eighties-British pop vocals and Beach Boys harmony layers should do the trick.
To be honest, Grizzly Bear didn't get me at hello, but about halfway through (at the pure mope-pop of Cheerleader which threw yet another element into the mix) all the pieces fell into place. They are musical magpies but capable of crafting something unique out of the straws they gather. They also make music which is comfortable, in a good way.
They might be the Next Big Thing in the manner of Fleet Foxes and before them Arcade Fire, but they've delivered an album of marvelous complexity and depth which, if doesn't have quite the immediacy of Fleet Foxes (with whom they have been somewhat curiously compared), possesses a rare self-assurance.
My suspicion is that many will latch onto this because they've been alerted to the cool-factor but will in truth (and in private) find it a bit anodyne. That would be a shame. This is a keeper and as the layers peel back on every hearing, something new and interesting is revealed.
That's rare -- and/but it ain't "rock" as many understand it.