November 15, 2007

Record Review: Grizzly Bear

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Trying to understand why Grizzly Bear’s music beckons the remix/cover is a bit perplexing. Why have countless artists taken their own swing at such a deeply melodic, subdued and extremely successful catalogue? Does that question really need to be answered? Probably not. What’s more interesting is the way that the band itself has transformed its work analogous to those big name cover artists; picking out certain tracks that have potential for growth and nurturing them into something grand.
The Friend EP is fun to listen to. It doesn’t weigh the listener down with too many nuances of re-made music. Fans don’t have to miss the Bear for too long as previously recorded tracks like “Little Brother” come back for a makeover. The version on Friend gravitates towards a groovier Grizzly Bear, one that takes down that softer, quiet portrait and spray paints a sharper, amplified image on top of it. The haunting undertones and ever so sweet cooing vocals are still there, yet on the whole, there is a totally different timbral exterior. “Alligator” presents a similarly surprising re-vamp of an old tune. The boys completely transform the Horn of Plenty 1:31 track into a wonderfully orchestrated five-minute exploration of the new “Friend” sound that flares with sawing guitars, floating vocals and a capitulation of horns in a Gershwin-esque final flourish. Supposedly being an album that is about, well, friends, the guest appearances add another element to the fold. Zach Condon and The Dirty Projectors stand in the background of “Alligator,” lending their talents to the chorus of voices.
The other three amigos (Band Of Horses, CSS and Atlas Sound) certainly hold their own in this endeavor, turning out some fresh and crafty covers. BOH puts on the straw hats and red vests for a four part harmony, old-time country, banjo pickin’, barbershop quartet version of “Plans” that is surprisingly re-playable. The dual “Knife” covers by CSS and Atlas Sound (aka Bradford Cox of Deerhunter) are complete polar opposites. Lovefoxx’s infectious, teenie bopper twinge transforms the song into a catchy breakup anthem involving the metaphoric imagery of a very sharp object. Meanwhile, Cox explores a deeper playground of noise, creating a track that sounds like the tonal incarnation of a glass factory with floating, airy vocals gliding along the rafters.
In the end, however, the band with all the hubbub around it steals back the show, finishing off the E(L)P with Dan Rosen’s absolutely soul-warming rendition of “Deep Blue Sea.” The intimacy of the recording, the simplicity of his tender lyrical style and the soft-spoken staccato of the strings all make the recording come alive.
This album is a tantalizing taste of what some of us have been craving for from Grizzly Bear. They have given us a sip of the golden drink of fuzzy guitars, driving rhythms and song structure –– a possible glimpse of things to come. Whether that change occurs or not, Friend stands as leap forward by its own merits, a testament to the pervasive popularity (see: Beirut to CSS) and mutability of such a solid band.