The context for Silent Hour/Golden Mile – a five-song solo effort from Grizzly Bear’s Daniel Rossen and something to hold us over till the band’s next full-length, expected this year – is, more than anything, heavy. In the vacuum following the wild success of Veckatimest, the 2009 album that elevated Grizzly Bear into the limelight, Rossen found himself in a deep creative crisis: “I wasn’t really sure what I was doing, and if I really even wanted to make music anymore,” he said. It’s hard to imagine Rossen, whose presence as vocalist and songwriter has been so integral to Grizzly Bear’s cerebral, intricate sound, feeling so adrift. And while a vague sense of discomfort is part of the band’s aesthetic – its penchant for delving into minor keys has earned both praise and ire – despondency was never around the corner.
For what it’s worth, though, that turmoil left Rossen’s talents unblemished. Rather than the stripped-down or lonely songs that so often accompany the bill of “solo effort,” these five songs are as polished, highly wrought, ornamental – take your pick – as any on Veckatimest, which speaks as much to Rossen’s worth as an individual arranger as to his worth as a member of a group. He recruited friends for help with the EP, including Dr. Dog’s Eric Slick on drums, but these are recognizably Rossen’s songs, as formulaic – and wonderful – as we’ve come to expect from him. Unencumbered but layered, the songs here build at a measured pace until they burst at the seams, and despite the relative homogeneity of that structure, their details, and Rossen’s magnetic voice, are engaging.
The booming, distant drums and acoustic guitar of country-tinged opener “Up on High” trudge along like a lone rider on the plain. The lap steel of single “Silent Song” picks up on the rustic theme, and Rossen’s voice retains its telltale monastic shiver. Without Grizzly Bear bandmate Ed Droste’s warmer vocals for balance, Rossen’s voice cuts through these songs with more force, especially on lines like “Lord, I know it’s wrong.”
“Saint Nothing” seems, at the onset, to break the mold a bit. We don’t normally hear the pale notes of a piano from Rossen, and here, they add to his already-plaintive delivery. Such straightforward, unadorned instrumentation is also an unlikely find, and it’s no surprise when the song draws up into a lush conclusion filled with looped harmonies and brass. Unsurprising, maybe – but fascinating nonetheless. The mildly distorted guitar of aptly named “Return to Form” has a familiar ring to it – like those first chords of Veckatimest high point “While You Wait for the Others,” the riffs productively muddy and provide contrast to the clean lines of the other tracks (though the string section toward the song’s end err on the side of overkill). Far more moving are the achingly sad laments that drift above and through layers of cymbals on closer “Golden Mile.” After a long thee-year absence – and that despairing brush with musical exile – it’s good to finally have Rossen back.
Label & audio: http://warp.net/records/daniel-rossen