Grizzly Bear prepares to release a big record with a big show.
Thu Feb 26 2009
CHORD WALK Grizzly Bear brings its expansive tunes home to Brooklyn.
Photograph: Lane Coder
David Letterman has scored his fair share of coups in the past year—from John McCain (who canceled and slinked back) to Joaquin Phoenix (sort of). Grizzly Bear’s performance of the song “Two Weeks,” which aired on The Late Show July 23, turned out to be another feat. The song, from the upcoming Veckatimest (which is named after an island in Massachusetts), is an organ-fueled sonic beast and a true pop sensation. Much like the Brooklyn quartet’s “Knife,” from its last full-length, Yellow House, the track is immediately striking and resonant. It’s a rare event to watch a live performance and instantaneously revere a song you’ve never heard before; “Two Weeks,” penned by singer-guitarist Ed Droste and drummer Chris Bear during a weekend sojourn, is unquestionably a track of that order.
The new album, currently under lock and key due to the Warp label’s fear of leakage, was delivered to the TONY offices before being swiftly taken away—presumably by an armored van full of Navy SEALs. (“I’m not scared of leaking,” Droste says during a telephone call shortly after our listening session. “If they’re not going to buy it, maybe they’ll come to a show and buy a T-shirt.”) On the whole, Veckatimest isn’t as approachable as “Two Weeks,” but, as Droste is quick to point out, it’s more prt--couter than previous recordings: “I think this album is more accessible: The vocals are higher, the drums are louder, it’s clearer. The songs are more immediate.”
If there’s an explanation for that, it’s the third LP’s fullness—its large sounds echo and fade with both ferocity and calm. To expand this spectrum even further, the usually self-sufficient band enlisted wunderkind composer Nico Muhly for string arrangements and producer Gareth Jones—Depeche Mode, check; Erasure, check—for final mixing. From the racing rhythms of “Southern Point” to the soaring harmonies of “While You Wait for the Others,” these songs keep expanding and expanding, like a vision of outer space during a mescaline trip.
It’s no surprise, then, that Grizzly Bear recorded much of it in two cavernous spaces. The first was a Brooklyn church—when asked for its location and name, Droste said he couldn’t disclose that information—where the band rehearses and records. Droste, Bear, singer-guitarist Daniel Rossen and multi-instrumentalist--producer Chris Taylor did most of the early work on Veckatimest at Allaire Studios in the Catskill Mountains amid vintage microphones, Mellotrons and mysteries. “Allaire was really bizarre,” Rossen says. “Chris Taylor worked it out.... It was a strange situation that we were even able to be there. It was a huge estate on the top of a mountain; the main recording space is essentially the size of a cathedral.” A third locale, Droste’s grandmother’s home on Cape Cod, was reserved for intimate guitar pieces—you can even make out fireplace crackles.
Given the expansiveness and idiosyncratic nature of the music, adding instrumentation seemed a logical next step—and not just to the band. “I remember standing with Nico Muhly at a Grizzly Bear show a couple of years ago, talking about how good they would be with an orchestra,” says Steven Lankenau, director of programming for the Brooklyn Philharmonic. “Flash- forward to today, and [music director] Michael Christie wanted to do it, so Nico wrote the arrangements, and the Brooklyn Philharmonic’s the orchestra.”
According to Droste, the band is looking forward to the show at BAM—though not without apprehension. “We chose songs we felt were really hard to play as a four-piece,” he says. “This might be our one chance to play them with an orchestra. There are songs that we’ve never performed live ever, in the history of the band.” As that history grows longer and the catalog deeper, there’s probably no situation that Grizzly Bear can’t turn into something that feels like coming home.
Grizzly Bear plays BAM Howard Gilman Opera House Sat 28. Veckatimest is out May 26 on Warp.
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