Grizzly Bear: Yellow House

Daniel Spicer

Beguilling, beautiful and bewitching pop-folk-prog from a big-hearted Brooklyn bear.

Grizzly Bear

Yellow House

Label: Warp
US Release Date: 2006-09-05
UK Release Date: 2006-09-04

Ever since folk tropes and instrumentation started to be incorporated back into acceptable forms of hip popular music around the turn of the millennium, new acts have been rising up and taking these forms in new directions. Grizzly Bear’s second album, Yellow House, finds the Brooklyn band -- now expanded to a quartet from its beginnings as a solo vehicle for singer/songwriter Edward Droste -- pushing the boundaries in some beguiling and beautiful ways.

With its lush harmonies, creative electronic augmentations and campfire vibe, perhaps the closest comparison is to Animal Collective’s 2004 masterpiece Sung Tongs. Whereas that album came across as something firmly rooted in the avant-garde that revealed its pop roots and catchy hooks after a few listens, Yellow House does quite the opposite; what sounds at first like an assured and intelligent pop record, eventually, on deeper listening, begins to open out into some strange and unsettling terrain. It’s a stealthy, insidious record that creeps up on you and -- just when you’re thinking of moving onto something a little more challenging -- sends out curious barbs that hook you back for one more spin.

A lot of the drama in these 10 songs comes from a constant tension between intimate, acoustic simplicity and echoing, epic production -- like Devendra Banhart and Mercury Rev duking it out for supremacy over every track. Almost every number manages to cram in multiple ideas, stretching the songs out into mini-suites that incorporate enough material to fill half an album by a less imaginative band ... and still manage to come in at around the five-minute mark each. Along the way, there are shades of pastoral Prog à la Gabriel-era Genesis, the twisted bubblegum pop of XTC and some Tom Waits-style down-at-heel exotica.

Perhaps, too, much of the quirky unfamiliarity of the songs can be traced to the unusual instrumentation: bucolic banjo jostling alongside strange, half-buried samples and field recordings; gauzy, multi-tracked vocals riding on strings and xylophones; and, on every tune, unconventional, creative percussion that avoids falling into the usual pop-rock idioms, favouring instead brushes, hand-claps, sighing cymbals and -- when it feels right -- big, cavernous drum beats that sound like they’ve been recorded on the rim of a volcano.

Such a wealth of material means that pretty much every tune contains at least one moment that could conceivably be called an album highlight. Nevertheless, some compositions stand out as being especially inspired. The opener, "Easier", sounds like a particular type of heaven, with choirs of cherubs trading in their harps for banjos and singing nostalgic songs about past lives they were too young ever to have experienced. "Marla" is an odd, sepia-tinted waltz (based upon a tune written by Droste’s aunt in the 1930s) which suffers a gorgeous, seductive decay into sinister circus music for the mind, all rattling percussion and twisted, lunatic piano. "On a Neck, On a Spit" contains the most brilliantly simple declaration of affection heard in many years, a sweet refrain of "each day, I spend it with you / all my time I spend it with you", that manages to convey love, lust, excitement, fear and resignation with breathtaking economy and joy. And then there’s the big, Prog finale to close the album: the epic "Colorado", with it’s sweeping drums and piles of cumulo-nimbus vocals repeating the question, “What now?”

What indeed? This is a big album: big-hearted, epic in scope and ambition, emotionally all-encompassing and yet somehow personal and quietly moving. One gets the feeling that Grizzly Bear could conceivably make the album of the decade next time round.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.