Originally the musical outlet of multi-talented Edward Droste, whose recordings on Horn of Plenty were added to by Christopher Bear (name entirely coincidental) in its final stages, Grizzly Bear is now a foursome. The members’ skills (vocals, guitars, bass, woodwinds, electronics, effects pedals, drums) are fully implemented on Yellow House, Grizzly Bear’s second proper full-length and first for Warp.
They’re still recording music in home studios (this time in Droste’s mom’s house off Cape Cod), but on Yellow House, the members’ DIY approach is aided by Chris Taylor’s engineering insight. The sound is still lo-fi, but it’s clearer and more focused, similar to David Newfeld’s work with Broken Social Scene. “Easier” starts the record off at a shy pace, wood instruments heralding the coming piano notes while guitar and vocal melodies slowly direct the various elements of the song into a convergence. Bear, Droste and Daniel Rossen share vocal duties, taking turns in the spotlight and occasionally merging their voices into a hymnal intensity.
Grizzly Bear delves into a number of themes and explorations throughout Yellow House. On “Marla,” a waltz written by Droste’s aunt in the 1930s, the members’ approach to the melodies rediscovers the music, and although it was written decades ago, the song is not out of place here. Layering haunting vocals over strings and piano, “Marla” proves itself to be timeless.
“Knife,” meanwhile, wouldn’t be out of place on the soundtrack to American Graffiti (if it were redone by Terry Gilliam). The vocals, reminiscent of Brian Wilson‘s, are offset by the instrumental restraint typical of ’50s and ’60s pop music.
Atmosphere feels to be the central focus of Yellow House. The attention to detail, the avoidance of crisp production, the resonance of the instruments and voices all contribute to the depth of the music and its ability to penetrate through to the listener in an almost raw and pure state. “Colorado,” the album’s epic ending, makes full use of these atmospheric qualities. A deep sadness is released in the music, the longing building into the question, “What now? What now?” As the song reaches the halfway point, the intensity is dropped, only to be rediscovered as whispers of voices and instruments reclaim the sorrowfully powerful energy.
Yellow House ends on a single bow-strung note, and there is a sense of conclusion, a sense that all energy created has been transferred efficiently into another form of energy. I was left with a reflective moment in the silence — and then a need to listen to the album again.
“On a Neck, On a Spit” MP3