A couple of weeks ago I bought two albums by a band named Grizzly Bear, a group about which I knew absolutely nothing except that a lot of people liked them. I'm not in love with them. I don't find myself singing along. They're not what I would call melodic, generally, and despite the name they are most definitely not funky or raucous or loud or brazen. In fact, more than a few times, listening to their swirling, dizzying, arty, somewhat narcoleptic rhythms, I found myself wanting to hear James Brown talk about his licking stick or the Louvin Brothers sing about Jesus.
And yet, I do find myself listening to them repeatedly, for no other reason than somewhere in their aural haze there's something indefinably weird and interesting going on.
The earlier of the two albums is titled Yellow House, which I can only describe as an album of ghostly melancholy. The songs are all keyed to a very somber, meditative sort of mood, and while I wouldn't say the songs all sound the same, they do seem to be about the same thing, which is trying to connect with someone who is either about to leave or who is no longer there. "Can't you feel the knife?" one song asks, but there's no anguish or hurt or passion to it. It's like some disembodied observation. Other songs seem to be about searches that end up nowhere or thoughts that can't be expressed. Beyond that, I can't really say what the songs are about, because the lyrics are like broad, occasional brush strokes of words to go with the sweeping, semi-orchestral sounds, the wash of strings and high, sleepy choral harmonies, which is why I'm not bothering to quote them.
The words elliptic and lacunae keep coming to mind.
The music matches well with the beautiful pictures in the sleeve, of empty rooms in an old house. It occurs to me, looking at the Edward Hopper calendar on my wall, that they would similarly match the visual effect of Hopper's wide spaces and lonely, often reflective people.
The band's latest disc, and the one that has gotten so much enormous acclaim, is Veckatimest, "named after a small island in Dukes County, Massachusetts," according to Wikipedia. The themes tend to be the same, these very brittle love songs where couples see the future yawning before them, but the music is more song-oriented, the lyrics don't seem like an afterthought, and it rocks a little harder. Or maybe I should say it rocks a little.