Review Summary: Ed Droste and company make melancholic indie folk music that demands a listen.
The grizzly bear is a fearsome beast. Often times the he weighs as much as the average Pick-up truck. Known to lurk in the woods of Northern America, he feeds on everything from the flesh of the Caribou to groups of unsuspecting Salmon, on their way home to breed after a long season of ocean life. But even a carnivore of his stature needs to rest. In the winter of every year the bear collects hundreds of pounds of fat in preparation for its annual hibernation, a period in which Grizzly does nothing but sleep (this takes place through much of the winter).
The Indie rock band Grizzly Bear probably do not take part in this feral tradition. No one in the band weighs anything close to 1500 pounds, and, when face to face with cowering National Park goers, the band would probably much prefer to join into song, rather than rip these fine tourists limb from limb. But if there is any form of music that brings to mind the slumbering of the creatures, it just might be Grizzly Bear’s sleepy, lo-fi indie folk. And here, wrapped in a blanket, watching the snow fall, it’s pretty apparent that there isn’t much better music for a cold march evening.
Grizzly Bear released their debut collection, an album titled Horn of Plenty, in late 2004, but it wasn’t until they got smooth on Yellow House that the hype machines really started to take notice. But Plenty is a great record in its own right, perhaps even a better one than Yellow House. Frontman Ed Droste’s vocals are tired sounding, intimate and of the perfect indie rock tone. His band mate’s sound is a less refined, a folksy blend of indie rock and trippy pyschadelia, often times sounding like the late Elliot Smith with a rather crippling case of flu. The sound is mostly acoustic based (at least on HoP) but lacks the kind of bounce that would makes itself at home on many indie folk CDs. Comparisons to Animal Collective wouldn’t be totally out of the question, nor would comparisons to Devendra Banhart, but there’s something even bleaker, more sad and dissonant that lies within Horn of Plenty. That being said, there is also something inviting about the lushness of the vocals on many of Plenty’s tracks, almost like the terrifying lure of the Angler Fish, a deep sea creature who uses a bioluminescent bulbous esca to attract smaller fish into its cavernous jaws. But the main melody of the song Shift, is delivered via whistling. How scary can a band that whistles be?
The swirling electronic pop bridge part of Fix It offers a refreshing break from the stark musical landscapes Grizzly Bear offer on most tracks, adding an air of happiness to a fairly unhappy sound. Other tracks, like A Good Place and Deep Sea Diver, stick to this dry, sad sound, but build upon it, presenting it in ways more lush and more divine. The lazy eyed choruses of “This is a hymn for you, This is a song for you” in Good Place will have the listener humming away, while remaining heart wrenchingly honest and serene, while the shy synthesizer line in Deep Sea Diver makes everything about the song just stick out, and when the near DJ Shadow perfect drum part comes in the song gains every bit of drive it ever needed.
But it’s the song Service Bell that brings me the closest to musical ecstasy. The track’s clanky musicianship adds a lo-fi tone to the track while Droste’s heavy hearted moans add an almost religious like air to the song. A sample of a young girl singing is introduced early on in the song, looping over and over, while the guitars keep clanging and Ed keeps on singing. It’s the perfect song to include at the end of the album, and a bloody brilliant example of Grizzly Bear’s cerebral, melancholic pop style in its own right. Horn of Plenty is in every way as good as Yellow House, and for those who haven’t the quartet’s music yet, it’s an album that begs to be listened to.