Monday, July 24, 2017

I'd Love to Turn You On #184 - Grizzly Bear – Yellow House

In the fall of 2006, I struggled through the last year of my twenties trying to balance the demands of graduate school and the collapse of a five-year-long relationship in a small town in Vermont. Despite the exquisite autumn foliage, quaint locales, and charming New England characters surrounding me, I found myself at a low point with few breaks from the pressure, frustration, and loneliness I felt. Throughout my life, music has provided an outlet from my troubles and a path toward healing. Around this time, TV on the Radio released their second album, Return to Cookie Mountain, and offered the gift of an intense, gorgeous, and complicated album that soon became a personal favorite. Speaking of gifts, a few weeks later a friend bought me a ticket to see TV on the Radio in Boston. Preparing for the show, I noted the name of the opening band, Grizzly Bear, and wondered what they would sound like.  

The trip to Boston allowed me a much needed interlude from Vermont and once I entered the venue I felt energized by the evening’s potential. Shortly after I arrived four young men took to the stage, announced themselves as Grizzly Bear and conjured an intricate, haunting, and mesmerizing collection of songs. All four band members contributed to the lush vocal harmonies woven into the songs and they cycled through a range instruments including clarinet, autoharp, banjo, and xylophone. At the end of their set, the band announced that they would be selling copies of their brand new sophomore album, Yellow House, at the merch table. TV on the Radio came on soon after and put on a brilliant performance that far surpassed my expectations. That night stands as one of the best combinations of opening act and headliner I’ve ever witnessed. After the show, I took Grizzly Bear up on their suggestion and bought a copy of Yellow House. The whole band worked the table and their enthusiasm for their new album was infectious. Return to Cookie Mountain had given me a vibrant, cathartic push through a tough fall, but Yellow House invited me to explore the elusive and delicate possibilities of the near future as I prepared for winter in Vermont. Each of the ten songs on Yellow House possesses a distinct identity, but I think of the album as a whole. The opening song “Easier” slowly builds through an evolution of disparate elements for over a full minute before coalescing into a spritely paced, densely layered introduction to the band’s unusual and compelling songcraft. Although the album begins with an airy feeling and light instrumentation, the closing song, “Colorado,” stirs low, heavy piano notes and pulsing percussion into a heavy, meditative storm as the phrase, “Colorado, what now?” repeats like an invocation until the song slowly reduces to the hushed, persistent beat of a drum.

In 2007, I saw Grizzly Bear tour in support of Yellow House two more times and each time I felt like I learned more about the songs and how they worked so well together. Two years later upon the release of their breakout third album, Veckatimest, the band played in a much larger venue and it was thrilling to see them thriving and enjoying the success of their hard work. In just a few weeks, Grizzly Bear will release their fifth studio album, Painted Ruins, and I’m eager to hear how the band has evolved in the five years since their last album, Shields. After I first became acquainted with Yellow House in New England, I lived in Oregon and back in my hometown in South Carolina before moving to Colorado a few years ago. Nearly eleven years later, I still feel like Yellow House has new things to tell me and I must admit that more and more I find myself wondering, “Colorado, what now?”  

-          John Parsell

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