September 20, 2006
If their name coincides with their creative process, then Grizzly Bear must have been hibernating when they recorded their first album Horn of Plenty, and have finally woken up with their second album Yellow House. Although musically Horn of Plenty, which was released in 2004, was a decent album, it was ultimately a bit bland and redundant, coming at a time when so many low-fi indie bands were releasing records.
Horn of Plenty was also nearly a solo album, with lead singer Edward Droste writing and recording the whole album alone in his Brooklyn apartment. After the release of their first album, Grizzly Bear all but receded back out to sea, after seemingly fully exhausting their wave of longevity on the indie music scene. Yellow House, however, has pumped new life into Grizzly Bear, a comeback few critics were expecting. Perhaps this rebirth can be attributed to them switching record labels — they are now with Wrap Records; or perhaps someone had to sit Edward Droste down and tell him that there is no I in TEAM, since on Yellow House, all four band members, two of them new, wrote a good portion of the songs together.
With Yellow House, Grizzly Bear has found a way to put their best foot forward and flaunt their talent for intricate arrangements and melodies. Their sound still has that slight dusty and nostalgic quality, but they have found a way to smooth out some of the dissonance and erratic edges, in order to create the pure gem that is Yellow House. From the onset of this album, with opening track "Easier," Grizzly Bear has a haunting and sweeping sound that often feels like a melodic version of déjà vu.
"Easier" is a perfectly smooth opening that slowly, with sparse flutes and piano, builds to the soft voice of Edward and his accompanying banjo. The track "Knife," is the only slightly more rock sounding song, or as rock-n-roll sounding as Grizzly Bear can get since there are still calming background vocals and rolling synths. Our favorite track by far is "Central and Remote." The song begins with a lone xylophone and builds into crashing guitars and drums before slowing down again. This track best encapsulates Grizzly Bear; there is something comical, sweet, cartoonish and haunting that is all swirled together in their songs. So give Grizzly Bear a listen before winter comes again.
The Fiery Furnaces
We feel the same way about Brooklyn-based band The Fiery Furnaces as we do about the hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese restaurant we discovered a few years ago in Tribeca: a secret place that always serves up exotic and delightful treats, which are only appreciated by a few very loyal patrons.
The Fiery Furnaces have toured with the likes of Franz Ferdinand and the Shins, but few people outside of New York, apart from some musically enthused emo and hipster social networks elsewhere, have heard of them. At their core, The Fiery Furnaces are simply a superb pop melody based band, but with heavy instrumental multi-layering and often off the wall lyrics, they tend to scare away even the bravest of musical palates. We started listening to The Fiery Furnaces after hearing a track off of their epic masterpiece Blueberry Boat (2004) on the NPR music show All Songs Considered (a great resource for all of you budding indie-musicophiles) and we have been gobbling down everything Fiery Furnaces ever since.
The band, which is made up of brother and sister duo Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger, have branded a type of pop sound that is at best described as controlled eccentricity. At first glance much of their music appears extremely experimental, with most songs either being an epic eight minutes long or curt, one minute interludes. Their songs often include a barrage of instruments, manipulated in interestingly unrecognizable ways; and Matthew, the main songwriter for the band, has an affinity for interloping various melodies through the song. It is not uncommon for a Fiery Furnaces song to begin with one melody and then end, six minutes later, with a completely different one. Their lyrics are also always tongue-in-check, but presented with an innocent façade.
Overall there is a kind of whimsy to The Fiery Furnaces that will completely endear you to them, and when you are patient and finally hear a brilliant pop melody in the middle of a song it all becomes worth it. Their most accessible album is their EP (2005) with "Here Comes the Summer," being the best track. Blueberry Boat, which critics consider the best Fiery Furnaces album, is an obligatory selection; but we also feel that the newly released Bitter Tea is very solid, especially the song "Waiting To Know You." So open your mind and perk up your ears, and give the Fiery Furnaces a very patient listen.
Stephen Talkhouse, Saturday at 8 p.m. With summer come and gone, the fall scene, though quieter, can be like the season itself, refreshing and full of potential — it is a time to discover new things.
Patrick Lee of the band "The Scaters," a fellow Long Islander (feel that cool breeze?), comes this weekend to the Stephen Talkhouse. A longtime musician, Lee studied electronic music as a graduate student at Stony Brook University. Patrick claims that his music is inspired by the likes of the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, James Taylor and even Long Island's Billy Joel. Evoking sounds played at hip coffee shops, Patrick Lee's electronically infused piano sounds are worth sipping a cozy fall cup to.