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Grizzly Bear - Yellow House

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Artist: Grizzly Bear

Album: Yellow House

Label: Warp

Review date: Sep. 17, 2006

Yellow House is another one of those records that demonstrates that “exquisite,” indeed, “painstaking” production can be found at either end of the economic spectrum. Grizzly Bear’s first album, Horn of Plenty, was a home-recorded album that became something of an overnight success story in 2005, selling well based on strong word of mouth and then getting reissued along with an album full of remixes (which, you know, may be the ultimate sign that you’ve arrived). After signing to Warp earlier this year, Grizzly Bear has stuck with the home-recording tack: their second album, Yellow House, was recorded in the living room of “a yellow house just off Cape Cod,” according to their official bio. Much like Horn of Plenty, the songs on Yellow House are layered in found sounds and tape manipulations, although they still have recognizable pop song structures and seldom veer off into untethered experimentation – or at least not for very long.

Yellow House differs from Horn of Plenty because of the involvement of two additional band members – multi-instrumentalist Chris Taylor and guitar player and songwriter Daniel Rossen. Edward Droste dominated the first album, writing and recording all of the songs and then bringing in multi-instrumentalist Christopher Bear when the album was near completion. So where Horn of Plenty still had spare singer-songwriter arrangements, Yellow House sounds far more elaborate. Some things – like the Beach Boys-style vocal harmonies – are present on every song, but the underlying melody can range from traditional rock (“Knife”) to alt-country (“On a Neck, On a Spit”) to folk (“Reprise”). Even when a song can be pigeonholed into a recognizable style, Grizzly Bear still has a bit of unpredictability, as on “Central and Remote,” where the simple opening harmony gives way to something far darker. Only once, on “Plans,” does the openness to experimentation devolve into outright formlessness.

The most interesting thing about Grizzly Bear might be the way they split the difference with a number of bands. The vocals on Yellow House will probably merit some comparisons with Animal Collective, while the arrangements will merit comparisons with Akron/Family. There’s enough banjo to please fans of Sufjan Stevens, and even enough of a pop element to please fans of a band like Wilco. Indeed, with all of the production work, they don’t even sound out of place on an electronica label like Warp. A band that can exist on either side of so many divides must have a lot of creative energy; their recent success is testament to that.

By Tom Zimpleman

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