Review Summary: Horn of Plenty, Grizzly Bear's first album, unfolds rather slowly, but ultimately rewards patience and dedication.
So there you are, walking aimlessly through the forest, slightly dehydrated, somewhat dazed, and completely lost. That is, until you come across a meek, timid group of wanderers. These explorers lend you some water and, out of the kindness of their hearts, show you the way home. It just so happens that those men go by the name Grizzly Bear. In 2004, Grizzly Bear released their debut album, Horn of Plenty, a skeletal but experimental venture into the shameless quandary of nature.
Right off the bat, Horn of Plenty pins you in the middle of nowhere with no clear path and no resources. However, after a psychedelic and foggy introduction, Grizzly Bear emerges from the trees to kick things off. Horn of Plenty is a fragile collection of songs, but when the tracks are given the breathing room to build off of one another, the album begins to make sense. Just like that, a pathway begins to materialize. While this album is undeniably reserved and quiet, it is equally adventurous. Here Grizzly Bear delves into elements of folk, neo-pyschedelia, and art rock. Due to album's inherent haziness, approaching it can be somewhat challenging.
Grizzly Bear may seem deprived because of the album's murky production and use of unusual instruments. The percussion, for instance, often sounds like someone repeatedly banging on tree bark and trash cans with a stick. However, it's important not to confuse resourcefulness with deficiency. This is obviously not the first time a band has ventured outside the traditional instrumental start-up kit, but it is refreshing to see that brand of audacity on a debut album. The songwriting on Horn of Plenty is relatively simple, yet what makes the tracks themselves interesting is the tone with which they are presented.
On "Disappearing Act", for example, Grizzly Bear paints pictures of a lonely meadow with glistening bells and background vocals that become lost in the wind. Despite the darkness of the track, Grizzly Bear, a little over two minutes in, turns the song around with a more hopeful coupling of guitars that signal a distant light. Horn of Plenty does get off to a bit of a slow start. On first listen, "Deep Sea Diver" grabbed my attention right away, but its momentum was depleted with the pleasant but generic "Don't Ask". Nonetheless, Grizzly Bear definitely presents some intriguing musical ideas on tracks like the brief but heartwarming "Alligator", and the irresistibly congenial "Service Bell".
Listening to some of these tracks feels like unwrapping a mysterious gift. Sometimes there's a nice little extra treat hidden beneath the tissue paper. Opening with wayward flutes and tumultuous percussion, "Fix It" slowly glides into the most celestial moments on the album in which Ed Droste allows his voice to ascend beyond the instruments' limitations. Then, just when it seems like the song will dissipate without any additional ideas, Droste jumps back in once again for the most satisfying outro on the LP. Droste's potential as a mesmerizing vocalist becomes apparent on tracks like "Merge" and "Eavesdropping". There are no bad songs on Horn of Plenty, yet some of the songs struggle to live up to the album's highlights. "La Duchess Anne", for instance, feels pale next to the more fervent and dynamic "Eavesdropping".
Thus, Horn of Plenty does encounter some dry spots, but the music itself is sincere and delicate. With the aesthetic closing track, Droste sends the listener off with the best intentions. As a whole, Horn of Plenty is not an album that sinks in immediately. Therefore, deconstructing this LP can often feel quite tedious. However, while the album may sometimes be lacking in energy and drive, it incorporates plenty of complex layers that will take numerous listened to fully unearth and embrace. Just give it time.