Grizzly Bear: Yellow House

Is Yellow House Grizzly Bear's Pet Sounds? In a certain way it is, but more in the way Brian Wilson looked upon his own masterwork—as a collection of personal ‘pet sounds.' If anything, Yellow House is closer in spirit to Smile, as both teem with baroque arrangements and intricately plotted, even maze-like structures. Certainly The Beach Boys' influence is heard in the multi-layered harmonies that distinguish Grizzly Bear's ‘60s-styled “Knife” and the magnificent evocation “Little Brother.” The dense layering of saxophones and strings in the oceanic “Plans” likewise evokes Wilson and Phil Spector too.

Grizzly Bear's sophomore disc finds singer/songwriter Edward Droste, drummer Christopher Bear, bassist Chris Taylor, and guitarist Daniel Rossen meticulously crafting magical melodies and magnificent songs. Eccentric instrumental touches abound: strings saw, banjos pluck, vibraphones tinkle, a piano plummets like a descending waterfall, and glorious vocal streams gush (in “Reprise” especially). A dusty, out-of-tune piano inaugurates “Easier” before a lightly romping shuffle takes over while “Lullabye” features rousing vocal climaxes that explode into euphoric incantations. At times, the material exudes an hallucinatory quality. “Central and Remote,” for instance, alternates between softly whispered singing and “Cabinessence”-styled raucousness. The album ends gloriously with “Colorado,” a riveting epic where vocalists chant the title over and over as if immersed in a deep trance. Tellingly, though the waltz “Marla” was composed by Droste's aunt in the 1930s, it sits perfectly naturally alongside the other songs, to a large degree because its dusty arrangement of piano, strings, and brushed drums isn't radically unlike the instrumental approach used elsewhere.

Yellow House often sounds as if the Smile sessions had unfolded in a parallel universe as Grizzly Bear effortlessly conjures one fabulous moment after another. Filled with prismatic compositions whose multiple sections meld, intertwine, and occasionally collide within the course of a single five-minute song, Yellow House was recorded during an idyllic summer at a, yes, yellow house just off Cape Cod (in the living room of Droste's mom's home yet) and sounds like it. Still, let's not be hyperbolic: Yellow House is no Smile and it would be foolish to suggest as much. It is, however, exceptionally good, to some degree because Grizzly Bear drinks to some small degree from the classic's majestic well.

September 2006