I'm well aware that this review, if put in the wrong hands, could get me in trouble (or, God forbid, put on notice) with Stephen Colbert, the kind, stone-faced faux pundit with a long and documented history of bear loathing.
Now, bear in mind, I’m as loyal a Colbert fan as the next guy, but it’s occurred to me as of late that the man’s most celebrated credo–that all bears are created equal as godless killing machines–is just a little bit racist (or bearist, if you prefer), not to mention a bit harsh, especially coming from a man who chooses (un-Americanly, I might add) to pronounce his name Coal-bear. He’s right of course, but the fact is that some bears also have important things to say, some have their artistic sides, and some are just plain beautiful.
To wit, consider recent Warp signees Grizzly Bear. The group, whom I can only assume consists of an actual grizzly bear, the bear’s handler, and the man who holds up the bear’s microphone (I don’t envy that job), follows in the giant paw tracks left by other such insanely great, pioneering bear-named bands as the Art Bears and Avey Tare & Panda Bear (seriously, check them out) and, to a lesser extent, the Bear Naked Ladies (a name whose meaning I’ve never quite grasped). And while Grizzly Bear shares these bands’ fondness for eccentric freak pop, it is also by leaps and bounds the most accessible of the bunch—the gateway bear, if you will.
But Grizzly Bear doesn’t just take its pedigree from the Animal Kingdom. The bear at times takes cues from other artists as diverse as Califone, Danny Elfman and the Beach Boys. For certainly, “Little Brother” and “On a Neck, On a Spit” are ramshackle roots numbers at their finest. Certainly, “Marla” sounds like something straight out of a Tim Burton film. And equally certainly, “Reprise” and the last minute and a half of “Central and Remote” are enough to melt Brian Wilson’s ears right the hell off.
But, being a bear, there is also always an undercurrent of violence, as exemplified by the crushing (yet simultaneously uplifting) finale of “Lullabye,” and “Knife,” which seems to have a lovely sing-song chorus until you realize what it’s saying (“Can you feel the knife?”).
Of course, the gimmick of being a bear and making sweet, beautiful music from the carcasses of your human victims would only go so far if it weren’t for the fact that the whole album is just so damned consistently good, without a poor song in the bunch. I’ve listed to Yellow House at least twenty times in the last two weeks, and it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite albums of the year. And I’m not just saying that to avoid being brutally mauled and eaten by a vengeful coven of bears right in front of my loved ones. I mean, seriously, you just cannot reason with these bears. (Someone please call 911.)
[If you would still like to hear the album before purchasing it, check out: http://www.grizzly-bear.net/audio/]