Review Summary: such is the ghostly haunt
There are few albums that make mood a primary songwriter and not just a tone begot by, not only the band’s parameters, but the listener’s as well. The likes of Microcastle
and The Wall
have been written with such a unique and possessive tone and quality that ambiguity doesn’t really stand to reason anymore, and we’re left with a world inhabited by sights and sounds left privy to a band that managed to capture it. Yellow House
is such an album.
Built upon the basics of folk and psychedelic rock, Brooklyn-based Grizzly Bear build a sharply dressed, sepia-toned character study of Yellow House
’s birthing place, whether that became their intention or not. Lyrically, the album’s themes of lawnchair living and suburban restlessness create an entrancing waltz with Grizzly Bear’s unflustered pace, where they approach each arrangement with a delicacy that becomes important to the marked intent of Yellow House
Though they would go on to achieve an immaculate indie rock record, one that fills out as The Big Album that we all can love equally, we needn’t forget where the guys stretched their tender limbs and told a ghost story. Such is the ghostly haunt of opener “Easier,” woodwinds quivering through the window as a piano whispers from another room; it presents a trick that Yellow House
uses often and effectively, layering creaking doors and the sounds of living souls into the thicket. Much of it appears in the percussion, the soft pattering of furniture being pounded in inspired impromptu jam sessions or the whispered backing vocals floating in from the doorway.
None of it is to say Grizzly Bear wrote the album this way, but then poltergeists pound the dusty drums in the attic and brother is reciting, “Chin up, cheer up,” and we forget this was made by four humans in a studio. In “Marla,” a song written by guitarist Ed Droste’s great aunt, an aspiring musician who passed in the early ‘40s, the incessant knocking of doors builds suspense and tension in what becomes the album’s most haunting piece of music, though it sounds as simple as a piano recital to accompany a ballet. A delicate piano waltz built around a fruitless search for the items of one Mr. Forbes, the slower pace and thick atmosphere, urged on by violins and irregular drumbeats, help highlight the song’s tender narrator and her alienating need to please.
Which still isn’t saying anything about the Grizzly Bear’s foray into experimenting, which riddles “Plans” with digital bites that chirp and splutter around the wails of harmonizing. Closer “Colorado” unveils tricks not already spoiled in the previous 45 minutes, but they’re best left uncovered. When a hollow vacuum sucks up the campfire folktale that offsets “On a Neck, On a Spit” and spits out its boisterous second half, its the album’s closest moment to unbridled emotional storytelling (“each day I spend it with you now”). The song is as close to a true standout as the album has besides the obvious “Knife,” but otherwise Yellow House
, experimental quirks and all is best experienced as one extended love letter to its haunted namesake.
Most of all, though, even for an album dependent on the mood that steers it, Yellow House
sounds like music excited by its own aspirations, built not just for consumption but simply to exist. A delightful turnabout for an album so meticulously, drearily paced, but colors do manage to splay out amongst the sepia, and we’re left with a world inhabited by sights and sounds left privy to a band that managed to capture it.