Grizzly Bear - Friend EP
From its beginnings as the lo-fi solo project of singer-songwriter Ed Droste, this EP is an impressive demonstration of the huge growth the project named Grizzly Bear has undergone in the intervening years. Now a four-piece, the band have released Friend as a makeweight between their last full-length - 2006's critically acclaimed sophomore effort Yellow House - and their as-yet untitled next album. Actually, describing this release as a makeweight is a complete injustice, because it's much, much more.
There are all-new versions of older tracks, covers of the band's songs and brand new material waiting to be discovered on what is a great value-for-money treat for their growing army of fans. Of particular interest for those hoping for an insight into how the band is set to develop further is Deep Blue Sea, which pulls off the feat of feeling both grand and intimate at the same time, all the more impressive taking into account it's essentially little more than a demo. Elsewhere, Alligator, a cut from the first album, gains four minutes on the original and no little gravitas courtesy of a choral backing from a group of singers including Beirut's Zach Condon and members of the Dirty Projectors. Elsewhere, the precocious Little Brother, which originally appeared on Yellow House, is beefed up courtesy of some plugged-in guitars but loses a little of its charm in the process.
In an unusual but thoroughly welcome move, the band have invited three other groups to take on some of their old songs, with Band of Horses contributing a country-tinged, stripped-down take on Plans. CSS and Atlas Sound (the solo project of Deerhunter mainman Bradford Cox) delivering two very different interpretations of Knife, with the Brazilian electro-smut outfit delivering an understated, disarmingly pretty take on the former single, while Cox's effort proves the pick of the bunch, taking the lightheaded-yet-sinister whimsy of the original and coating it in shimmering raindrop percussion to haunting effect. Grizzly Bear even jump on the bandwagon themselves with a version of The Crystals' girl-group classic He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss), a song they took to covering while touring to promote Yellow House, and they do an admirable job of recreating the patented Phil Spector wall of sound. In fact the whole EP has an intangible, arresting beauty about it which is reminiscent of great pop productions of the past, giving it a strange sense of warmth and a soft, timeless atmosphere.
The secret track, a Morricone-aping juggernaut, signs things off in rollicking fashion and makes 11 tracks in total, pushing the envelope of what can be described as merely an extended player. Quality rushes through the veins of this release, revealing GB to be a band committed to growth and testing the boundaries of what they can achieve with their art.