This week’s throwback review of Grizzly Bear’s Yellow House sends us to year of 2006, which was the year of the 250th anniversary of the birth of Mozart – if any of you were curious.
Yellow House is Grizzly Bear’s second full length album after their 2004 album Horn of Plenty and was named for lead singer Ed Droste’s mothers house where the band recorded the album. Grizzly Bear was originally a solo moniker of the Droste but by the time of Yellow House it had grown into a psychedelic folk four piece based in Brooklyn, New York that also included Chris Taylor, Christopher Bear, and Daniel Rossen.
Yellow House is a hodgepodge of instruments built together into an experimental folk album that is dominated by vocal harmonies. Included in the assortment of instruments utilized are: drums, xylophone, glockenspiel, auto-harp, saxophone, banjo, piano, guitar, clarinet and flute. For Grizzly Bear, this is a common collection that can been heard in many of their other albums and EPs. Grizzly Bear later got recognition from Childish Gambino sampling Grizzly Bear’s song “Two Weeks,” from 2009’s Veckatimest, in Gambino’s track “Bitch, Look at Me Now.”
With a ghostly flute intro that gives way to an upright piano, the first track on the album, “Easier”, entrances with the eccentric, inconsistent use of instruments and is reminiscent of a scene from Disney’s Fantasia. The words being sung are often just vehicles to project the instrument of a voice, and they are woven into the deep texture of the song but occasionally find their way back to the forefront. This blanket of vocal harmonies carries throughout the entire album. “Lullaby” – which is not something I would suggest to play to sleeping babies as it would more likely wake them back up during the peak cacophony of melodies – subtly chants the melancholy lyrics “cheer up, cheer up” like subliminal messaging to all those in ear shot. It feels exotic and intricate, something that pulls you back into listen again, something pulls you back to the spacey fantasy that concocted it. Next the ballad “Knife,” which was the lead single from the album and is a personal favorite track, asks “can’t you feel the knife?”.
The albums shifts to a more sober track in “Plans” which has an amazing whistle accompaniment that slowly transforms into an almost robotic march. There is a huge step in the production quality of this album from Horn of Plenty (2004) which can be heard throughout the album but especially in the quieter tracks like “Plans.” Droste’s deceased aunt wrote the song “Marla” which they slowed down into an eerie melancholy ballad with beautiful strings that lift up the spirit as the track progresses. Yellow House takes a brighter turn in the folky love song “On a Neck, On a Spit.” With building banjo picking and breaks that fill with rumbling percussion like thunder across a prairie. Eventually this ventral storms breaks into what could almost be a part two of the song that highlights the vocal efforts. The banjo flows on and into “Repris,e, as if like the same suggests it is comprised of bits of the previous track presented softer and calmer.
Since Yellow House’s release Grizzly Bear has released two more albums, Veckatimest in 2009 and Shields in 2012 and they opened up for Radiohead on the second leg of their North American tour. Although Grizzly Bear is still together, recently Rossen embarked on a solo tour for his other band, Department of Eagles stating “We don’t have a clear plan… I think towards the end of the year, if it feels natural, [Grizzly Bear will] start again.”
The track list is as follows:
- Central and Remote
- Little Brother
- On a Neck, On a Spit
- Granny Diner (Japanese release only)