Welcome to the third installment of a special series of Changeover Music, where I’ll be writing about my favorite songs of 2012. Of course, I’d love to play some of these tunes at tennis tournaments, but sadly all the arena DJ jobs are taken by people with little to no taste. Yes, Paris DJ, I’m looking at you. When would you play this song during a tennis match? Who would be the players involved? Feel free to leave your answers in the comments section below.
The first time I heard about Grizzly Bear was in the summer of 2008. I was psyched about going to see Radiohead at the short-lived All Points West festival at Liberty State Park in New Jersey. The festival’s website had a little widget where you could listen to some of the bands playing at the festival, so I listened for a bit and wrote in a fluorescent yellow sticky note the names of bands that sounded interesting. I wrote down “Grizzly Bear”. And even though they played on the same day of the festival I had tickets to, it took my wife and I forever to get to the actual venue (a 1.5 hour drive followed by a 20 minute ride in the PATH, a 10 minute ride on a trolley of sorts in Jersey City, and finally a 40 minute walk), so we weren’t in the mood to wander around and just waited for Radiohead at the main stage. In the weeks and months that passed after that show, I forgot all about checking out Grizzly Bear, even though I would frequently glance at that yellow sticky note.
Fast forward to 2011. I was in my cube at my old job, looking for something new to listen to. I remembered about Grizzly Bear, and since I have a tendency to be methodical about getting into bands, I looked up their first album, Horn of Plenty on Grooveshark, listened to it, and hated it. I concluded that the band was overrated and wasn’t worth my time.
Fast forward to a few months ago. I was catching up with old Colbert Reports on the DVR, and I saw that Grizzly Bear was one of the musical guests for Colbert’s “StePhest Colbchella” shows, which were broadcast from the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum in New York. The band was funny during their interview, and the song they played was “Yet Again”, off their recent album Shields, their fourth studio outing. I liked what I heard, but didn’t think to look for Shields. Not exactly sure why.
Finally, about a month ago I remembered about Shields via the Pitchfork app on Spotify, gave it a listen, and realized I had made a big mistake in 2011: Grizzly Bear is not overrated. Shields is a fantastic album — probably one of the three best of 2012. It’s intricate yet accessible, caustic and bombastic, dark yet warm. And the first song that stood out among the rest was “Yet Again”, the fourth song on the album.
The guitar work to open “Yet Again” is fascinating. It’s loud, it’s visceral, and yet…it’s not really a typical power riff. It’s just a chord progression, and Daniel Rossen goes over every chord just once with his pick. The effect is just devastating, and it sets the tone for the song quite perfectly. The rhythm section is fully engaged in an uptempo kick that reminds me a lot of a frantic version of a spaghetti western power ballad from a David Lynch movie.
After two runs through the cycle, Rossen’s guitar takes a backseat, Ed Droste’s voice appears, he croons “Yet Again”, and you’re hooked. There’s something quite unique about that voice: it manages to be both timeless yet contemporary, serious yet sensual. Some smart production adds a few details to enhance Droste’s delivery, which is always a good thing. Case in point: during the first verse, Droste is all alone for the first line:
“Yet again, we’re the only ones”
However, you can hear two Drostes for the second line:
“No surprise….this is often how it’s done”
Grizzly Bear is a very meticulous band: they will mess with your head. Which they do quite fantastically at the 0:56 mark of the song, with one of their trademark vocal interludes featuring Droste and bassist Chris Taylor. Here they add a very smart layer: an acoustic rhythm guitar that will stay throughout the next verse, as well as some occasional “clapping” effects to further accentuate the spaghetti western theme.
Then we head into the chorus, and because this is a Grizzly Bear song, it’s not the bombastic chorus you expect: Christopher Bear’s drumming goes from being cymbal heavy to bass-drum heavy, there is some neat guitar/keyboard arpeggio work, and Droste is joined by Taylor and Rossen on the vocals. After Rossen takes us on a strange but brief psychedelic guitar ride to end the chorus, we realize that he’s just setting the table for a return to the scorching chord progression from the beginning; this time with the rabid acoustic guitar strumming along, and Bear’s drums enthusiastically follow suit. This moment, which happens at the 2:17 mark of the song is just Rock and Roll glory. It makes me want to get in the car, blast this song in the stereo, and drive along the edges of cliffs. Because that’s what you do when a rock band gets it this right.
A nice little detail in all this glory is the addition of some synthesizer layers for atmospheric purposes, which slowly build up until Droste appears for the third verse, and then come in and out depending on whether Droste is singing or not. These are the little things that make a song great.
After we run through the third verse and its accompanying vocal duet between Droste and Taylor, we once again land on the chorus, which is a good opportunity for Grizzly Bear to mess with our with our minds again: as the chorus starts again at 3:15, the rhythm section disappears for the first three lines, leaving Droste all alone. However, everybody joins in for the second part of the chorus, and they run through it again, slowly building up to a wild psychedelic freak-out of what could be heavily distorted guitars or keyboards. The song ends, and you have very little clue of what just happened.
But you’re smiling, because that was an awesome ride, and your guides are nuts. So you keep coming back for more.
– The official video above is quite interesting, and I love the scene that accompanies the wild freak-out at the end of the song. What’s stranger than a teenage figure skater screaming her lungs out while a hurricane goes through her room? It’s perfect.
– I didn’t go into discussing Droste’s lyrics for “Yet Again”…because I have no idea what he’s singing about. And I don’t care, really. I’m a sucker for ambiguous lyrics.
– I had seen this a long time ago, but since I was unfamiliar with Grizzly Bear, I didn’t recognize Droste, who does a fantastic job with the lead vocals of this Beirut song.
– Here is a stripped down version of “Yet Again”, from the fantastic Canadian QTV. It’s quite wonderful, and if anything, you can laugh at how terrible Droste looks — it’s as if he hadn’t slept for about 4 weeks before this performance: