Thursday, December 28, 2006

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2006: Number 4

That landing needs some serious interior design work

Easier, the opener on Yellow House, starts with a whirring under Disney strings, followed by a snatch of concert hall piano. Then there's a prime example of voice-as-instrument with dislocated string motifs underneath. Then it turns into Sufjan Stevens, complete with banjo, but with a misty vocal mix and a slightly off-harmony vocal, before settling into a fingerpicked folk guitar motif with warped strings, what may be a double bass and a prominent glockenspiel. This is going to be a headphones album. And what it isn't going to be is a straightforward listen - friend and fan Owen Pallett (Final Fantasy) has said "if people pick up on the fact that they sound a great deal like the Stone Roses, I think they'll be big in Britain", but he is quite clearly mad. This is pitched right into the expansive genre known as freak folk, definitely and almost defiantly at the experimental Animal Collective end rather than Devendra Banhart retro mysticism. It's a psychedelic experience but not in the purest sense of the term, making equal use of Elliott Smith songwriting, TV On The Radio forward pushed dynamics and widescreen sonic vistas with surprising twists that keep it interesting and an experience that needs a damn good hearing.

Yellow House is as concerned with creating a mildly disturbing, almost seasick atmosphere as with its mystical (but not in the Forbidden Planet sense) songcraft, textural patterns lapping each other and shifting whenever it sounds like the delicacy of the construction is about to hit an impasse. Lullabye is a queasy, claustrophobic Mobius strip sporting enormous drums, fuzz bass and wordless panning chorality, rarely all at the same time as the enormity of its ideas gradually unfolds. Not to say there aren't snatches of melody largely from somewhere akin to the White Album and Love, even if they are partly disguised by use of reverb, subtle electronics and something we'd guess is akin to Steve Albini's mantra of wanting to record the room atmosphere as much as the music being played in it. Central And Remote's acoustic meandering amid cymbals sounds like Kings Of Convenience in a forest at night, lysergic, close miked Marla breaks out the pizzicato strings for a tender piano waltz that's thrown out of the standard loop by sudden influxes of skittering drums, almost EVP backing vocals and plenty of creepy noises and found sounds on the edge of the spectrum, while Plans starts as almost campfire singalong before introducing snatches of electronic crackles, random noises, grumbles, fake skips and assorted oddness buried right through the mix along with drunken New Orleans funeral horns which gets cut off as if the laptop has finally blue screened. They're not afraid to pep things up with a Beach Boys harmonic structure either, best demonstrated on Knife's odd swoon, while On A Neck On A Spit starts with West Coast harmonies over that Sufjan banjo again before stepping up its pace to an oddly Simon & Garfunkel-esque arrangement before Mellotron strings and clattering, sometimes double speed drums join in. What Grizzly Bear have achieved with all this is a method of taking songwriting forms that, while not necessarily classicist, have echoes of alternative and folk forms and dragging them into the woods to fend for themselves, amid the sudden movements and unsettling atmospherics that turns the melodies suddenly agoraphobic.

LISTEN ON: On A Neck, On A Spit
WATCH ON: Knife acapella in Paris; Lullabye live in London
READ ON: Brooklynvegan talk to Droste

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