Grizzly Bear – Yellow House (2006) / Veckatimest (2009)

grizzlygifIf Yellow House is Grizzly Bear making dream music, then Veckatimest is those dreams becoming almost lucid, the loose, imaginary topographies coalescing into something recognisable, real places rather than weird subconscious amalgams. Something like “Colorado” was happy to repeat one word and half a beautiful melody into some kind of amniotic bliss, an unexperienced thing thought about so much as to construct a false memory. “Foreground”, by contrast, as ethereal as it may be, feels like an echo of something that actually happened, however vague and twisted by time and the failings of memory. They come to a similar sensation from different directions, perhaps.

I came across Grizzly Bear in 2006, and was intrigued by the idea of a band, with instruments and voices, being signed to Warp Records, a label I’d happily consumed electronic music from for a decade. At first it seemed like an odd home for them, but slowly the strange, drifting, layered and intricate musical landscapes of Yellow House, redolent of folk, of jazz, of ambient music, began to seem like a good fit with what I knew from Warp. The way they play, the tempo-shifts, unexpected melodic turns, repetition-as-change, timbres that feel both ancient and brand new at the same time, remind me more of jazz or electronic music than of indie rock.

As I get older, I find more and more that I appreciate music where I can’t locate myself within it, where I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen next, even if I know it intimately. I could draw you a diagram of how a song I loved when I was 15 went, describing exactly how verses became bridges became choruses became middle-eights, but I’d be hard-pressed to do the same with a Grizzly Bear song, even if I knew it inside-out. I guess I’ve lost some of my interest in “songwriterliness”, and find emotional responses inspired as much by sensation and aesthetic and point-of-contact as by structure and narrative. When snatches of Grizzly Bear music arrive in my head, I seldom know which song they’re from, and I suspect I probably run different songs into one another in my mind. That said, from time to time they concoct, or, perhaps, allow to unfurl, moments of undeniable and heady pop rush: the galloping “each day spend it with you, yeah / all my time spend it with me, yeah” passage from “On A Neck, On A Spit”, for instance, is as joyous and catchy as anything I know.

When “Southern Point” opened Veckatimest in 2009 I was deliriously pleased. The hushed beginning, the jazzy momentum, the build to a swirling, psychedelic climax; it was exactly what I wanted from them. For a while I thought the album sagged a little in the middle, but time has made “Ready, Able” and “Cheerleader” (“I’m shooting them myself / I should’ve made it matter”) mean as much to me as anything else they’ve done. On occasion I wonder whether I’m reacting aesthetically rather than emotionally to their music, missing the gut-punch that some songs have hit me with over the years, but it’s a false dichotomy; aesthetic reactions are emotional reactions, of course. The emotions Grizzly Bear inspire are difficult to define and because of this I’m all the more eager to revisit them, to try and untangle and understand them. As suggested, they’re the kind of feelings I often get from electronic music or jazz, ones that aren’t easy to contain in words.

I sometimes wonder if the instant access that the internet provides us to musicians demystifies music to an extent, removes some of the magic that allows us, as fans, to create mythologies. Grace Dent said to Boy George in one of Danny Baker’s BBC4 album shows last week that she “never, ever wanted to think of [him] having to go and pay a gas bill”. I talk to Ed Droste on Twitter fairly often, about TV shows and cycling and cooking and holidays and other people’s records and whatnot, but somehow this hasn’t at all diminished the mystique and otherness of his band’s music. That’s quite a trick to pull off.


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