Friday, July 17, 2015

Grizzly Bear

Belatedly (very belatedly) I have finally gotten into the band, Grizzly Bear. I've known their music for a while now, years in fact, and kinda liked some of their stuff, but suddenly something totally clicked early this year and I have been listening to their most recent two albums Veckatimest (2009) and Shields (2012) nonstop. Both are beautifully constructed pop albums and listening to them, you can tell the care that went into creating them. As far as I can tell, the band began as a four-piece based in New York but are now split between LA and NYC. Most of the heavy-duty music work is done by Daniel Rossen (guitars, etc.) and Chris Taylor (bass, overall producer), both multi-instrumentalists extraordinaires, but the public face of the band is, more or less, singer Edward Droste (left in the picture) who has a bit of an angelic voice.

What to say of their music? They are a bit like the Beatles in spirit in that they work firmly in the three-minute-pop-song idiom but their ambition is far bigger than pop. They draw in all manner of different genres (folk, rock, psychedelia, and the modern avant garde) into the mix. What comes out are odd but familiar pop tunes crafted lovingly in the studio. I can see why some people would find them a bit twee (in the mold of say, mediocre bands like the Decemberists or Death Cab for Cutie) and yes, they don't rock out or anything. Their commitment is instead to produce the perfect song, the perfect melody, with a strong sense of the history of pop music, with one eye firmly planted into the future. The future part is in the way songs are both familiar and yet sound like nothing you've heard before. I think there is a movement here to push the boundaries of conventional pop into marginally new areas. The production values are excellent. They really take this stuff seriously. I like that. (And so does apparently, of all people, Trent Reznor).

One thing worth mentioning: I know that they have been critical darlings for many years, particularly from the Pitchfork-type set. I missed all that (fortunately) so my recent devotion to them is something that has happened entirely organically, a rare feat in these over-saturated social-media-crazed days. They just grew on me!

Both the albums I mention above are lovely, and I could name any number of songs to check out. But I'll mention one from each, both just literally the best pop tunes I've heard in years, maybe in a decade. The first is a song from Vekatimest called "Ready, Able." I am posting a live version but the studio version is also just as good if not better.

The second is a fantastic song from Shields called "Yet Again." Can this be the best single pop song from the past five years? Anyone? We're talking (nearly) as beautiful as Neil Young singing "Expecting to Fly."

And because you should also see the studio version of "Yet Again":

Finally, apparently, the band is now recording a new album, due in 2016.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Dead Flowers

"Well, I won't forget to put roses on your grave...." I've been jamming to the Sticky Fingers reissue the last few weeks. This was the stuff of my teenage years. I'd honestly forgotten how great of a band the Rolling Stones were at their peak (roughly '68 to '73). It doesn't hurt to have a stellar blues guitarist on board (Mick Taylor) and everybody generally writing and recording one awesome album after another: Beggars' Banquet (1968), Let it Bleed (1969), Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out (1970), Sticky Fingers (1971), Exile on Main Street (1972), and yes, even Goats Head Soup (1973). And let us not forget the two stellar non-album singles from that period, "Jumping Jack Flash," and "Honky Tonk Women."

They are also a great live band, needless to say and this clip, showing them in a small club in London in late 1971, just before the release of Sticky Fingers shows that, once, even the Rolling Stones could play to a small crowd and be totally plugged in. Also noteworthy: Charlie Watts is a phenomenal drummer; Mick Taylor is a superb guitar player; Keith Richards looks like a corpse; and Mick Jagger looks like Adonis.