Half of a decade has passed since we last heard the gentle, thoughtful murmurings of Grizzly Bear, and oh how the world has changed.
Back with new LP, Painted Ruins, the band appeared at Apogee Studios to record a live set and interview for KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic that is set to air on October 12.
Although the end may be nigh, quick math suggests that the quintet must have conceived the bulk of Painted Ruins in the waning days of that last administration.
So while we precariously await the inevitable flood of albums infused with overt vitriol, let us seek comfort in the sunset of a simpler time. Which brings us to a quaint hideaway studio in Santa Monica, for an eleven-song set from Ed Droste, Daniel Rossen, & co.
Grizzly Bear’s songs have always been difficult to pin down. They possess an artful quality, but are largely abstract and are not immediately palatable. They can be dreamlike, where the nexuses between moments are omitted or disappear as quickly as they take shape, birthing a tapestry of kaleidoscopic intricacies.
Seeing this band in a studio, one in which the hosts graciously welcome you in to the control room, is ideal. Not only does it provide a unique behind the scenes experience, but it allows one to hear the outlines of each whispered strain. Neither Droste or Rossen project type A vocals, but instead favor utterances that pretty much dissipate in to the whole.
When the percolating intro of “Four Cypresses” lost out to a more tentative spirit, it became apparent to this relative newcomer that Grizzly Bear’s music may be cosmically designed for more of a solitary listening experience.
“Losing All Sense,” which has a Liverpudlian slash Beckian funhouse whimsy on Painted Ruins, lost that sense in the live setting. But on third track, “Yet Again” off of 2012’s Shields, the band found a familiar groove, especially when Droste strapped on a guitar mid-song and dialed the thump up a notch.
“Mourning Sound” shed the bug zapper intro it has on the new LP, but maintained a nostalgic, cinematic flavor that would fit well in a John Hughes picture. Meanwhile, “Two Weeks” off Veckatimest was accented with harpsichord sounds and clean multi-part harmonies, including Chris Taylor’s near-falsetto contributions.
New track “Three Rings” contained mini throbs and a little space jam that built to the rockiest moment. But any momentum gained was soon abandoned in favor of a return to introspection with “Foreground,” another Veckatimest piece. By the song’s end, however, Chris Taylor’s angelic vocals decorated the song like shiny ribbons.
Final number, “Sun In Your Eyes,” favored an unforeseen jazzier side of Grizzly Bear, with Christopher Bear coolly commanding his drum kit, a slow sax reveal from Chris Taylor, and finally, a big pop.
It should be noted that this night of music was KCRW’s 75th session at Apogee Studios, an admirable achievement in a city that too often abandons the virtues of reliability and tradition in favor of the hip.
After raising a glass of champagne towards Apogee’s vaulted ceiling, Jason Bentley took a moment to read off a list of all 75 alumni. He revealed who came first (Chrissie Hynde), who spent their session hugging a golden bear, and which guest shared tales of hanging out with Elvis.
Bentley’s interview with Taylor and Rossen touched on the band’s creative process, which band member’s mother is a Grizzly Bear super fan, how Chris Taylor views studio production as an opportunity to “excavate” what is deeply special about an artist, and a self-deprecating jab about their own music being “cerebral, read a book music.”
Perhaps some these details will make it in to the MBE broadcast on October 12, so tune in. Kudos to all over at 89.9FM for this ‘diamond anniversary,’ and please keep up the good work.
Grizzly Bear Setlist at Apogee Studios:
Losing All Sense
While You Wait For The Others
Sun In Your Eyes