You can't scare me none, I'm still the lucky one


Grizzly Bear lit off for the territories early on in their career, and they've never come back.  It makes them hard to talk about.  

"They're from Brooklyn" is where everyone starts, as though that explains anything.  

When I read someone trying to describe their music, they often end up saying things that are just wrong.  To pick but one example, I've found more than one reviewer talking about the "blues guitar" that opens "Sleeping Ute." If you are okay with it being in a weird time signature (maybe 11/4?), and having a chord progression that's has nothing in common with blues or even jazz...well, it is played on a guitar, I'll give you that.

Grizzly Bear has been together since 2002.  They have two lead vocalists, their bass player also plays reeds, they use a whole lot of synthesizers and electronics in the studio that requires them to tour with a fifth person who sort of hides in the shadows, and everyone in the band sings, even the drummer and the unnamed fifth guy.  The drummer's name is Christopher Bear (really), and the band is not named after him.

Their compositions mess around with traditional song forms in ways that are a lot like OK Computer era Radiohead.  ("Southern Point" sounds nothing like "Paranoid Android," but it's got the same thing of being more a suite than a song.)  Their harmonies and chord progressions are often just flat-out strange.  They have songs that come stop and then start again as though they've fallen asleep and then woken up in a strange bed.  They can sing songs that are so full of longing, and songs that are as emotionally impenetrable as a Wallace Stevens poem.

There's a lot to unpack in any Grizzly Bear song, even the ones I don't like.  I'll warn you that there are a lot of those.  I'm not going to say that they frequently miss their mark, but they miss mine quite a lot.  I've got Veckatimest and Shields boiled down to about nine songs that I listen to on the regular.

(Also, the line "every pleasure burned down to the wick" just bugs the hell out of me.  [Morbo voice] CANDLES DO NOT WORK THAT WAY!  GOOD NIGHT!)

There's a whole bunch of good live Grizzly Bear performances on YouTube, but sadly the best of all - the performance of "Southern Point" they did on KCRW - has been taken down.  Someone reuploaded it in terribly downsampled 320p and now that beautiful artifact is strictly-from-hunger.

This one, on the other hand, is great.  "A Simple Answer" didn't make my personal playlist, but I love this performance of it.  

Daniel Rossum is usually a little more understated than he is there - this is much more guitar-forward than the version on record, and at least at the start it feels like this is a traditional singer-songwriter with a band behind him - even more so when he switches to electric piano.  It's the Daniel Rossum Show!  (Also, he's totally stolen a lick from "Everybody Wants To Rule The World")  

But about four minutes in, the mood shifts, Ed Droste takes over, and what started out sounding almost like a straight-ahead rock and roll song goes to another place.  You thought you were watching a bar band, and now the lead vocalist is singing backup, the backup singer's singing lead, there's electronic percussion in the mix, and the bass player is playing a clarinet into an effects box.  You were rocking along, and now you're watching the stars wink out as the sun comes up, and you can't quite remember how you got there.


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