Monday, October 29, 2007

Little Blurbs:
Grizzly Bear - Friend EP

Do you trust your friends?

That was the question posed earlier this year by Stars, the Canadian based band allowed their friends and associates in bands like Dears, Junior Boys, Final Fantasy, to cover their breakthrough album Set Yourself on Fire from start to finish. The results were mixed, the reviews were mixed, leaving no doubt in my mind that the best possible answer to the question is: depends.

With that in mind, I shall continue with the latest installment of our Little Blurbs section, this time focusing on Grizzly Bear and their latest release, Friend EP. Coming soon, a blurb about the Japancakes' homage to the My Bloody Valentine epic, Loveless. You can also read the previous blurb, focusing on Celebration's latest album, The Modern Tribe, here.

Grizzly Bear - Friend EP

(Warp, 2007)

Grade: 71.2

"Alligator (Choir Version)" (mp3)

If you are like me in any way, you are probably a bit hesitant to give this lengthy EP a listen. For starters, Yellow House still holds up quite nicely, so a stopgap EP seems a bit unnecessary, even for a band that tours as much as Grizzly Bear. Second, the EP is lacking in any new material, instead consisting mostly of covers, either done by Grizzly Bear or their friends (hence the title), and re-interpretations of several existing songs.

I'll be honest, my expectations were not very high for this release, and perhaps that is why I came to like it almost immediately. Granted, the last thing us Grizzly Bear fans need are two more covers of "Knife", especially when the original is the undisputed champion, but as a whole this EP is rather enjoyable, especially the first half, where most of Grizzly Bear's tracks reside. The re-worked versions of Horn of Plenty tracks "Alligator" and "Shift" stand out the most on the initial listen, especially "Alligator", which once was a short, noisy drone that now sounds like another Yellow House gem. The song is nearly 4 minutes longer, but Grizzly Bear make the most of their time, filling out the spaces with their rich vocal harmonies and explosive builds, similar to the Yellow House epic "On a Neck, On a Spit". The cover of "He Hit Me", a live staple of the band, fits like a hand-me-down shirt. The doo-wop harmonies suggest "Knife" in the best possible way, as it is easy to imagine their love for this song as the inspiration for what has become their most famous one.

Friend does taper off when the covers kick in, though not for any lack of effort. Atlas Sound, the side project of Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox, brings the better of the two versions of "Knife" by staying both true and away from the original version at the same time, but the song, as interesting and unique as it is, lacks the passion and soul that makes the original such a compelling listen. Perhaps most surprising of all is Band of Horses' take on "Plans", as they give the song a 70's Country hoedown vibe (and sound a bit like they've been listening to the Eagles' "Seven Bridges Road while they're at it), but as fun as it may sound it still pales in comparison to the original.

Should they trust their friends?
Only to collaborate. The new "Alligator", which has assistance from Zach Condon and the Dirty Projectors, is incredible, and the hyped up jam that concludes Friend is perhaps the most exciting moment on this release. Otherwise, they are better off keeping faith in themselves.

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