Having heard Grizzly Bear's Horn of Plenty when it was first released and liking it quite a lot, I was taken back a bit when I heard Yellow House for the first time and to tell you the truth, I didn't really like it. That was until I saw the entity that is Grizzly Bear live during their tour with The Dirty Projectors. What I saw that night made me a life long Grizzly Bear fan. Four musicians who not only were super competent at playing their instruments, but goddamn they can write a song like no other. So after getting into Yellow House a bit late, imagine my excitement when I saw they had a new EP coming out in which they "Yellow House'd" up with some of the old songs.
The first song on Friend is a re-envisioning of "Alligator" from Horn of Plenty. The song is now about four times as long and just filled with the lush vocal melodies that Grizzly Bear is starting to become known for. Fuzzed out bass and drums that sound like they could start to clip at any moment roll through in what is a very enjoyable remake. After this song is an absolute gem. Four grown men covering The Crystals' "He Hit Me." Playing in a band that covers all 60's girl pop songs myself, this gets me incredibly excited. Originally written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King (former husband and wife. Maybe this song was a telling tale to their break-up?), this song was heavily criticized when it was released for glorifying domestic violence. Phil Spector's (again, the people involved with this song originally really make you think...) original arrangement is nearly untouched and faithfully recreated by Grizzly Bear. I honestly can't think of any other band that could have done this song justice the way these four guys did on this album.
What really makes Grizzly Bear a special band is the way that they look completely out of the box in the context of their own songs and re-invent themselves. This is a very tough thing to do, especially when you are so used to hearing the song one way night in and night out on tour. "Little Brother (Electric)" is a remake from their album Yellow House. The band layers more fuzz over this one and adds even more Beach Boys-esque vocal harmonies. But the most impressive remake of their own material is, hands down, "Shift (Alternate Version)." Quite possibly one of the more gut-wrenching songs the band has ever made, they managed to take the eeriness found on the original and translate it perfectly in the full band version. The lyrics are some of my favorite from the band's short career as well. Layering is one of the band's strongest suits. The whistling below the singing backed with a piano that sounds like it was found in an abandoned Masonic temple before the band starts a vocal round in three part harmony is just absolute bliss.
Grizzly Bear do manage to squeeze one brand new original on the disc. "Granny Diner" is an interweaving of acoustic guitar, an old radio, and what sounds like harmonium until the drifting pot begins to bubble with the addition of the rest of the band's regular instrumentation albeit in a much more distant matter until finally the vocals come into the forefront, the harmonium becomes louder, and songs of after dinner unfairness reveal themselves. The final direct contribution from Grizzly Bear on this disc actually only features member Daniel Rossen playing a solo rendition of the traditional folk song, "Deep Blue Sea." It's a very fitting closing to this disc and would have fit nice right after "Granny Diner." Unfortunately though, the title of this release implies more than the guys from Grizzly Bear being a friendly bunch. There are a small handful of cover songs on here that I could have done without.
Needless to say, Grizzly Bear can cover their own songs in different fashions better than the bands asked to cover their songs. As well, there is not much variety in the songs covered. Two covers of "Plans" and two covers of "Knife." The best cover is the Terrible vs. Nonhorse noise collage of "Plans." CSS do a rather obnoxious version of "Knife" backed with pretty poor sounding synth textures. I think I just find CSS to be obnoxious though. Back to "Plans," Band of Horses show they have adapted quite well to South Carolina while covering this tune as it is the most country sounding I have ever heard the band. That's not really a good thing though. Bradford Cox of Deerhunter's solo project, Atlas Sound, provides the final cover in his rendition of "Knife." It's not a bad cover but it just does not help with the flow of things and doesn't lend well to being the track before "Deep Blue Sea."
All in all, if the outsider contributions were left off of this disc, it would be a really great EP. I'd probably score it a 9 if those covers weren't there. Instead the covers tarnish it a bit, especially being planted in between Grizzly Bear material. Needless to say though, if you were a Grizzly Bear fan already, this should have you pretty excited to hear what the band does next.
8.2 / 10
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