Ten best Grizzly Bear songs

Grizzly Bear have just put out a new album, Painted Ruins. It’s their first in five years. On first listen, it sounds as good as anything they’ve done before. To celebrate, here are the ten best Grizzly Bear songs prior to the new release. The only caveat was that there had to about a roughly equal number of Daniel Rossen and Ed Droste songs. Here’s what the algorithm returned.

While You Wait For The Others

Yet Again

Ready Able

On A Neck, On A Spit

Little Brother (Electric)

Knife

Sleeping Ute

Two Weeks

Alligator (Choir Version)

Plans

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2017 – Here’s hoping

Happy New Year. Surely, 2017 can only be better than 2016. But who knows at the moment? What’s for sure is that music will always be a comfort. In that spirit, highly anticipated 2017 releases include confirmed albums from Elbow, Fleet Foxes, Foxygen, Grandaddy, Grizzly Bear, Horse Thief, Nadia Reid, Nikki Lane, Real Estate, Ryan Adams, The Shins, Son Volt, Strand of Oaks, and Sun Kil Moon. And then there’s always the H-LM wish list. This year, it includes Adrian Crowley, Alela Diane, Anaïs Mitchell, Bill Callahan, David Vandervelde, Feist, Field Report, Fionn Regan, First Aid Kit, Israel Nash, Jason Isbell, Jim White, Laura Veirs, Lewis & Clarke, Noah Gunderson, and Phosphorescent. Mind you, some of these artists were on my wish list this time last year. So, fingers are tightly crossed. Whatever happens, let’s start the new year with some good news. Word is in that Kramies is recording new demos. I can’t wait to hear the end result. In the meantime, here’s Kramies (feat. Jason Lytle) with ‘Clocks Were All Broken’.

Here’s to 2016

This is always a really exciting time. A whole year of new releases to be anticipated. We know there’s material forthcoming from Villagers, Eleanor Friedberger, Andrew Bird, Dylan Leblanc, Shearwater, Tindersticks, Lucinda Williams, Sun Kil Moon, and Damien Jurado. There are also rumours of albums from Band of Horses, My Morning Jacket, Robert Ellis, and PJ Harvey. That’s a good start. But there’s much more to hope for. Last year, I was really lucky. Right at the top of my 2015 list was music from Elvis Perkins and Sufjan Stevens and both were kind enough to oblige. So, artists, if you are listening, here’s my wish list for 2016 – Bill Callahan, Phosphorescent, Richmond Fontaine, Anais Mitchell, John Vanderslice, Bon Iver, Kathleen Edwards, Kate Bush, Grizzly Bear and/or Department of Eagles, David Vandervelde, Neko Case, Emmy The Great, Ryan Adams, Feist, Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s, Fionn Regan, Fleet Foxes, and, of course, Kramies. Do please oblige. In the meantime, here is the great one with his classic ‘Sea Otter Cottage’.

Grizzly Bear – Bear Rampant

Grizzly Bear – Shields: B-Sides

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This collection should come with a health warning to aspiring artists. Beware: This Is What Grizzly Bear Can Leave Off Their Albums. There are at least two tracks here that would not grace not just any normal record, but that might still end up being on many people’s end-of-the-year best-song list. The first is Daniel Rossen’s ‘Smothering Green’. It’s both utterly beautiful and fantastically hummable. Arranged in five acts, the first three increase the tension incrementally, the fourth releases it, and the fifth provides a wonderfully liquid ending. It’s a fully realised track that perhaps should have been included on Shields. If it had replaced ‘A Simple Answer’ with its almost unrelenting and distinctly un-Grizzly Bear-ish drums, it would have made a lovely centrepiece to the record. But it was discarded. The second is ‘Taken Down’, one of the three demos from the Marfa sessions. This is a classic Ed Droste song. The verse/chorus just goes straight into your head and won’t come out. For a song that could have become another ‘Two Weeks’ or ‘Yet Again’, it’s amazing that it was omitted. Perhaps it was psychological. The Marfa sessions in Texas were traumatic. Seemingly, none of the tracks recorded there found their way on to Shields. Maybe ‘Taken Down’ was consciously or sub-consciously repressed so that the band could make a clean start. Whatever the reason, it’s good that it’s now out in the open. What does let this collection down are the remixes. They’re an acquired taste anyway. But, here, they’re unusually uninteresting. ‘Sleeping Ute’ becomes so laid back that it’s best to think of it as ‘Sleeping Yurt (the Parks and Recreation Remix)’. As for the ‘Gun-Shy (Goes to The Disco Remix)’, the less said the better. What they do demonstrate, though, is that Grizzly Bear are at their best when they’re in control of their own sound. We have to accept this includes the right to leave off some truly great songs from their albums. But at least we can be pretty sure that at some stage we’ll get to hear them. Shields: B-Sides is proof.

Pitchfork review

Pretty Much Amazing review

The Line of Best Fit review

Best of 2012 – Part 2

Here are my 6th-10th favourite releases of 2012, in no particular order:

Grizzly Bear – Shields

How do you follow an album like Veckatimest? The answer. Don’t record anything for a while and then try to scale things back a little when you do. The strategy worked. Shields wasn’t quite the tour de force of its predecessor, but it still contained some great songs with ‘Sleeping Ute’ probably the best of the lot. Better than that, it contained some sublime moments that only Grizzly Bear can conjure up. When the chorus kicks in on ‘Yet Again’, there’s only one band you can be listening to. There’s no bigger compliment.

EHL - 4 months

Anais Mitchell – Young Man in America

Anais Mitchell also faced the ‘how do you follow that’ syndrome. Her previous release, Hadestown, was truly unique. With some help from Bon Iver and others, she retold a version of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, setting it in Depression-era US. On this album, she reverted to the individual-song format, but more than one told its own story. The title track itself was a version of the Great American Novel. And when the protagonist of ‘Shepherd’ loses his pregnant wife, there’s not a dry eye in the house.

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Band of Horses – Mirage Rock

Band of Horses are bad boys, aren’t they? They have the tattoos, the bad teeth, and they always look like they’ve just got out of bed. So they’re best when they rock out, right? Wrong. It’s when they slow down that they’re at their best. ‘Slow Cruel Hands of Time’ is an old theme, but it’s told beautifully. ‘Long Vows’ and ‘Heartbreak on the 101’ likewise. And why did they ever leave ‘Reilly’s Dream’ off the main album? It’s as good as ‘Detlef Schrempf’ and, to Horseheads, that’s saying something.

First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar

Swedish AM-friendly country rock. On paper, that’s not a great combination. But, two things make this record stand out. One, the songs are really strong. Two, boy, can these guys sing? The Söderberg sisters make Crosby, Stills and Nash sound like a bunch of old hippies. Oh, hang on. Anyhow, a good rule of thumb is that if a song sound timeless, then it probably is. And the ones on this album sound like they’ve already been around for a very long while.

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Paul Buchanan – Mid Air

Paul Buchanan’s most recent collection of musical pointillism was beautifully executed. Neo-impressionistic pictures of life at its most ordinary, combining to form an experience that was at once melancholy and uplifting. Only the slightest orchestration. Mainly just the singer, a piano, and some affecting melodies. It was as much the delivery of the songs as the songs themselves that made this such a rewarding listen.

Grizzly Bear – Shields

Grizzly Bear – Shields

A Grizzly Bear album is always full of drama. The sudden twists and turns. The noises off. As new dramas go, the new Grizzly Bear album is a triumph. The first track, ‘Sleeping Ute’ (or should that be ‘Sleeping Oot’, the Scottish song), begins with a lovely series of arpeggios, each one building on the last. In classic Grizzly Bear style it reaches a crescendo and then ends calmly. The second song, ‘Speak in Rounds’ starts slowly, but soon picks up pace, and then bursts fully into life. ‘Yet Again’ is built around a wonderfully hummable chorus, but the song is packed full of drama. The only songs that slightly disappoint are ‘The Hunt’, which sounds like Grizzly Bear circa 2005 and which, now, doesn’t quite suit them, and ‘A Simple Answer’, which begins with four minutes of pounding drums. At the end, when the drumming stops and the song calms down it generates more a sense of relief than the usual feeling of Grizzly Bear transcendence. One of the reasons why the album feels so full is that it’s clearly a collective effort. On more than one occasion what seems like Daniel Rossen song is finished and changed by Ed Droste. And, whatever about the drumming on ‘A Simple Answer’, Christopher Bear (no relation) and Chris Taylor are completely indispensable to the sound. On their last album, Veckatimest, there was a nagging feeling that Grizzly Bear were showing off. It was a little overacted. Shields is hardly underplayed, but it doesn’t feel quite so overwrought. This is the work of a set of great musicians at the peak of their creativity. Author! Author!

Grizzly Bear official site

Daniel Rossen – Bear necessity

Daniel Rossen – Silent Hour / Golden Mile EP

This is the first real outing from Daniel Rossen since Grizzly Bear’s 2009 Veckatimest album. There are plenty of continuities. Working on the Lennon/McCartney principle that whoever sings the song composed it, then ‘Return to Form’ on this EP recalls Rossen’s ‘I Live With You’ on Veckatimest. The slow build up of the guitar and then the shimmering keyboards that lifts the song to a whole new level. Similarly, ‘Silent Song’ here echoes ‘Fine For Now’ there. The quiet and the loud. The build up of tension and the release. There are contrasts, too. There’s nothing quite as elaborate or syncopated here as ‘Southern Point’. There’s nothing with the structure of ‘While You Wait For The Others’. There’s a sense that these new songs are just a little more raw. A little less produced. Less Grizzly Bear, more Department of Eagles, his other side-project. And that’s not a bad thing. Perhaps because of the circumstances in which Department of Eagles’ In Ear Park was written – the death of Rossen’s father – there was more emotion to the songs there than anything on Veckatimest. At least in the way in which they made the final cut. That emotion is here too. “Lord, I know it’s wrong”, he sings ‘On Silent Song’, “So help me out”. But the emotion is never at the expense of the melody. Rossen’s hooks stay in your head. And a sense of humour too? Calling your song ‘Return To Form’? It’s misleading, though. There was never a dip in form. And this EP just increases the anticipation of the next installment from Rossen under whatever name he chooses to record.

Daniel Rossen official website