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Grizzly Bear

Coming across as a second cousin of ANIMAL COLLECTIVE; or was that just PANDA BEAR, the harmony-laden and humble GRIZZLY BEAR clawed their up from one of America’s best kept secrets to champions of alternative/indie-rock. And with a couple of home soil Top 10 sets under their belts (“Veckatimest” and “Shields”), their intricate pet sounds of transience and/or tranquility resonated with discerning the hunters of aesthetic post-millennium post-rock.
Born and bred in Boston, but based in a Brooklyn bedsit, c.2002, singer/songwriter/keyboardist Ed Droste began the project with only a hand-held tape recorder at his mercy. What he did have was a voice, a voice that only others could dream of; and when multi-instrumentalist Christopher Bear (from Chicago) came on board, the d.i.y. duo weaved their not-too-inconsiderable talents on debut set, HORN OF PLENTY (2004) {*7}. The renaissance record lacked a polished production job, however, its minimalist, purposeful lo-fi-like field-recording motif was its endearing forte. It was early days for the young GRIZZLY BEAR (who’d been compared to ELLIOTT SMITH and newbie DEVENDRA BANHART), but the cannily childlike and ethereal Droste experimented throughout with an echo-y mic that could easily sound at home next to a clapped-out gramophone player (e.g. `Shift’). Acidic and hypnotic like a nightmare-turned-dreamscape awakening, tracks to follow were opening brace, `Deep Sea Diver’ and `Don’t Ask’, whilst `Disappearing Act’, `Eaves Dropping’ and the twee `A Good Place’, crept into one’s psyche with unsettling ease.
Inevitably, as time caught up with the realisation that a duo could not sustain in-concert concerns, an all-rounded GRIZZLY BEAR added a second layer of skin by way of L.A.-born DEPARTMENT OF EAGLES leader Daniel Rossen (on vocals, guitar, banjo, keyboards) and Seattle-born Chris Taylor (bass, vocals, woodwind, electronics). Needless to say, the cosmo quartet combined like a match made in heaven on sophomore set, YELLOW HOUSE (2006) {*8}; their first for Warp Records. Gone was the foppish folk-rock of their previous effort, and in its berth was the trippy 10CC-meets-Laurel Canyon-psychedelic presentation that graced everything from `Easier’ and `Lullabye’, to `Reprise’ and `Colorado’. Yes, one could hear latter-day BEATLES, a country-tinted CSN&Y and, of course, The BEACH BOYS-via-HIGH LLAMAS on the likes of `Knife’, `On A Neck, On A Spit’ and `Little Brother’ (lyrics by Fred Nicolaus). That was almost par for the course. By and large, GRIZZLY BEAR had now come down from the mountain.
In the age-old argument of what constituted an EP or a mini-set, the 10-track/43-minute “FRIEND” (2007) {*6} fell into the latter category for some with common sense. Then again, taking that it comprised re-hashed past haunts; respectively cut with CSS, BAND OF HORSES and Bradford Cox’s ATLAS SOUND – alongside covers of The CRYSTALS’ `He Hit Me’ and The WEAVERS’ `Deep Blue Sea’ – maybe the former idealists had a moot point. Incidentally, the original GRIZZLY BEAR duo had ripped apart a cover of YES’s `Owner Of A Lonely Heart’ for an exploitation mini-set proper, “Sorry For The Delay”; recordings from 2003-4 and dispatched in April 2006.
Back on terra firma and named after a small island in Gosnold, Dukes County, Massachusetts, VECKATIMEST (2009) {*8} was the turning point for GRIZZLY BEAR. The quartet had went down well when supporting RADIOHEAD on a dream-come-true tour of summer ‘08, so pushing the envelope from the auspices of a studio within Cape Cod, bode well for their collective concentration and focus. Interpolating chamber-pop pieces augmented by classical composer/conductor Nico Muhly (who’d worked with BJORK), the album spoke volumes for the ‘Bear’s pastoral approach. `Two Weeks’ was arguably the most accessible song on board, despite sounding a tad “Annie – Hard Knock Life”, and buoyed by BEACH HOUSE’s Victoria LeGrand, it was the closest thing they’d have to a signature tune. The CSN-esque `Southern Point’ was as breezy as the song suggested, whilst the boundless beauty of `Dory’ was as hunky and harmonious a track one would hear next to `While You Wait For The Others’ and the achingly-fragile `Foreground’.
With a little extra time on their hands, a commission for Derek Cianfranco’s stage production of BLUE VALENTINE (2011) {*7} came as a surprise to many punters. And interspersed with various artists, collaborations and a handful of re-hashed instrumentals, the unflinching love story of an ill-fated relationship suited the cerebral ‘Bear tracks.
On the back of releases by Taylor (as CANT) and Rossen under his own esteem, GRIZZLY BEAR tore up a set of songs they’d cut in Marfa, Texas, and started afresh an album that would morph as SHIELDS (2012) {*8}. The set’s literal high spots arose from download singles, `Yet Again’ and `Sleeping Ute’, whilst other attractions came through `Speak In Rounds’, `A Simple Answer’ and `Gun-Shy’; tracks reminiscent of 10CC, a breezy YES and the Laurel Canyon era.
Hibernation was a word best left unsaid for a group called GRIZZLY BEAR, but what other words could best describe their time away from the business – “hiatus” just doesn’t cut it. A switch from Warp Records to R.C.A., and a move across land to L.A. (where Christopher Bear worked on TV scores), expectation was rife when the band returned to the Big Apple for the release of their long-awaited seventh set, PAINTED RUINS (2017) {*7}. In between days, life’s ups and downs of a marriage, the pitter-patter of tiny feet, and a divorce, led the GRIZZLY BEAR to take a long introspective and meditative look at themselves. In musical terms, the cryptic nuances and ambiguous passages of chamber-pop/rock left a bitter-sweet taste among the album’s slow-burners. But although the set only received a moderate placing in the Top 30 (and a higher status in Britain for once), fans had no qualms with gorgeous highlights such as `Losing All Sense’ (very FATHER JOHN MISTY), `Three Rings’, `Mourning Sound’, `Four Cypresses’ and `Neighbors’; the latter four all download singles in their own right.
© MC Strong/MCS Jul2019

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