Grizzly Bear: Good or Fad?
Grizzly Bear's new album, Veckatimest, is a front-runner in many a "Top 10" list this year. Their tour is sold out everywhere. Their faces have been in every newspaper, magazine, site, and blog. The light has been shining on them and it seems they can do no wrong. And, for these reasons, I had grown skeptical about their talent and, more importantly, my own admiration for their music. Yes, I did love it myself when I first heard Veckatimest several months ago. But, my admiration began to wane as more and more praise was given to the band over the past few months. This is not due to a distaste for the norm or some sort of high horse I ride. I'm not a hipster. I'm not a dick. My feelings about Grizzly Bear began to waver because my original perception of the band involved a higher standard - a standard of originality and mystery that was set when I first heard Yellow House. On that record, the band molded folk and rock music into baroque, orchestral gems. The album drizzled, thundered, poured, and shined. Its melodies were simultaneously haunting and uplifting. Upon hearing Veckatimest, my reaction was similar. I heard the harmonies, the movements within each song, and the inclination toward grinding, reverberated guitars that its precursor, the Friend EP, hinted at. It sounded like Grizzly Bear and I loved it. But, I didn't listen as deep as I should have until the flurry of rave reviews popped up in every popular media source. Egged on by this fan frenzy, I forced myself to listen more closely in an attempt to discover why writers at places like the New York Times and Spin, not just those at the Pitchforks and the Gorilla Vs. Bears, were proudly hyping the album. And, what I discovered, at its core, was not shades of experimentalism or originality, but an overtly pop sound scattered throughout the album. There are actual ditties on this record, which is far from the sound that I fell in love with on Yellow House. The album's single, "Two Weeks," is as blatant a pop song as anything you'd hear on FM radio. Whereas, the closest thing to pop radio material on Yellow House, "The Knife," would be labeled "too weird." I'm definitely a fan of pop music, but the Grizzly Bear I knew was far from pop - approaching it maybe, but definitely not a pop band. Listening back through the record made it much clearer that Grizzly Bear had become a sunnier and catchier band and I had been fooled into believing that they were still as powerful as I once viewed them. That is, until I saw the band live.
Although it was the last stop on their U.S. tour, I highly doubt that their brilliance was just one last hurrah, like a final dash to the finish line. Rather, I believe the band is just naturally-fucking-amazing, night in and night out. I know that makes me sound like a starstruck kid - or worse, a blogger (zing!) - but, it was undeniable last night.
What makes Grizzly Bear so captivating is that they are extremely talented musicians, a facet that is hidden behind the vastness, the shear space, on their recordings. That is, the grandiosity of orchestration - instruments, melodies, and rhythms all colliding - overshadows the individual talents of each Grizzly Bear member. Their recordings are symphonies without solos, so there's no showcasing of singular skills. Live, however, the musicianship and emotion is visible, allowing you to grasp, not only the individual aptitude of each member, but the collective tightness of the whole band. Ed Droste sings every note with the utmost passion. Dan Rossen converts every jazz chord into guitar rock beauty. Chris Taylor grinds every bass line and adds every atmospheric woodwind part, cleverly disguising their calculation as improvisation. And, last but certainly not least, Chris Bear rips through every polyrhythm while harmonizing with each member of the band. Grizzly Bear is a well-oiled machine and undoubtedly one of the most talented and deservedly beloved bands around.
It was certainly a memorable experience to see the band live, especially at The Fillmore, a room that aptly captures their sound, preferred lighting sequences, and stage presence. But, what was most profound about seeing Grizzly Bear live was that it reaffirmed my admiration, my initial reaction, to Veckatimest. True, it is a more accessible record, but each pop melody is backed by the changes and four-part harmonies that are at the heart of Grizzly Bear's signature sound. Veckatimest is less about the grand rushes and subtle trickles of sound that made Yellow House an all-time favorite; it is more about consistency in sound. There are certainly those same crescendos and decrescendos, but it is less about the whirlwinds and more about the breezes. There are flashbacks of Yellow House throughout the record, which is a welcomed delight. But, there are also some pop songs on the album that are just as delightful, ones that are still filled with the intricacies and lushness that seems to come effortlessly from Grizzly Bear. It is a more polished and stable sound, which is indicative of the band's maturity and progression in musicianship. And, to see this musicianship, along with the emotion, played out before you, you can't help but fall in love with this band......again.
- Caleb Morairty