After everyone ranging from the New York Times to record store clerks went apeshit over last year’s Grizzly Bear masterpiece Yellow House, it’s hard to imagine this out-of-nowhere Brooklyn quartet could find a way to properly follow their singularly brilliant opus with something that could match, or equally daunting, forge a new direction strong enough to keep hold of such widespread interest. Although their latest EP, Friend, is no full-blown attempt to answer that question, it offers an insightful restatement of Yellow House‘s innards, and has it’s own subtle hints at what’s to come.
From their humble beginnings when founding member Edward Droste’s home recordings—originally meant only for the closed company of friends—circulated across New York and eventually made its way to print as Horn of Plenty in 2004, Grizzly Bear have attracted a proliferation of covers from fellow acts in the East Coast underground. Not long after their debut, a compilation of tributes from the likes of Final Fantasy and Dntel called for a double-disc reissue. So it’s no surprise that Friend bundles a few homages of Grizzly favorites from some notable peers.
As could be expected, Band of Horses’ treatment of “Plans” is transformed into a banjo-pluckin’, midwestern corn-chomper fitted with John Denver-esque vocal harmonies and brothel piano. But in salute to the original song’s denouement of gritty overdubs and tension-filled feedback, Horses subtly tear at their own rural branding and end it with the slow fizz of distortion. Not at all expected, though, is an appearance by Brazilian sextuplets CSS, who offer up perhaps the album’s best cover in a straight-up dance version of “The Knife.” Though easily the most straight forward track on Friend, CSS make the song their own in a way that Bradford Cox of Deerhunter, under the guise of solo project Atlas Sound, simply fails to do later on. The latter is hardly a let down by any means, but it sounds as if Cox had merely handed the reigns over to Noah Lennox to place an Animal Collective tribal beat under it, and, basically, recreate its vocals.
By far the highlight (and reason to pay sticker price) of the record, though, is its opening track: an expanded and renovated version of Horn of Plenty’s “Alligator” that would fit nicely alongside anything on Yellow House. Originally only a minute-and-a-half and all too easy to neglect on first listen, the reworked “Choir Version”—with Beirut and the Dirty Projectors lending their voices to the swell—is filled out with Grizzly’s signature lavish orchestration and even a blaring brass climax to top it off.
What portends of things to come for the group is a Daniel Rosen home recording—apparently all Grizzly Bear songs start off as little more than stripped acoustic ballads—called “Deep Blue Sea.” Sad and haunting at the same time, this track sounds as if Will Oldham had snuck into Droste’s Victorian Cape Cod home to shoplift a little of its magic.
In the record’s final moments, though, we’re given “Piste Sans Titre 11″ (literally, “trail without a name”) that completely throws the listener off balance with a “Misirlou”-like instrumental that would score well to a car chase across Argentina. If that makes any sense at all, but that seems to be the ultimate point. Besides tossing a few bones to their many, newly acquired fans, Grizzly Bear assert themselves loud and clear that their next step won’t be phoned in, or at all predictable.