New York City band Grizzly Bear's gently ambient Yellow House (Warp) manages to delicately conjure bittersweet associations of musty, memory-cluttered childhood homes and reference Charlotte Perkins Gilman's feminist-modernist novel The Yellow Wall-Paper — but the real household dirt on this band has to remain in one's imagination.
Vocalist-keyboardist-guitarist-autoharpist Edward Droste is up-front about his own sexuality — saying he's been in a relationship with one man for most of the band's existence — but when it comes to the love lives of his straight mates, the sometime journalist and Pro Tools bedroom recordist is the soul of discretion. Grizzly Bear's tales of random hookups are just "too dirty" to pass along, he explains on the phone from the East Coast college campus where the group is playing before joining the TV on the Radio tour in October. "I usually bond with the girls," says Droste, 27, miming his role as the band’s father confessor. “It's cool — we're leaving town. But it's totally cool."
And a certain ethereal cool marks the foursome's gorgeous soundscapes, now lifted above the tape-hiss fray of their fake-fur-embellished 2004 debut, Horn of Plenty (Kanine; later reissued in 2005 with a CD of remixes by Dntel, the Soft Pink Truth, Final Fantasy, and Solex). Yellow House sounds warm and welcoming, thanks to the production prowess of the band's brass and woodwinds player Chris Taylor and the recording site: Droste's mother's Boston-area home, the yellow house of the disc's title. The seductive tug of nostalgia takes over as Beach Boys–style harmonies skate over fingerpicked acoustic guitar and strings, bird chirps, and wah-wah pedal flit together on "Little Brother." Horns lumber alongside busy insectlike electronics and Droste's and guitarist Daniel Rossen's cooing vocals during "Plans." By the time the album breaks into "Marla" — a slowed-down, strings-swathed dusky dirge based on a 1930s-era tune penned by Droste's great-aunt of the same name, a failed singer who eventually drank herself to death — resistance becomes futile. This is seriously lovely music, a reflection of the group's recent communal music-making — and far removed from groupie dish.
"Initially, we wanted to record an album before we had a label and didn't have any money," recalls Droste, who shares the name of the Hooters cofounder, a distant relation. "My mom was going to be away, it was my old childhood home, and I was, like, 'Well, we can all have our own bedrooms, record in the living room, and there's a backyard, and every night we'd have chips and salsa and beer.’”
The laid-back atmosphere and ensuing musical productivity led to a bidding frenzy among indie labels when the recordings emerged, and now Droste is relaxing into a tour schedule that brings him back to San Francisco for the first time since February 2005, when Grizzly Bear — jokingly named after a Droste boyfriend who was anything but — played the Eagle Tavern. How did Droste's hetero bandmates handle the attentions of SF's finest bears — and those of the bandleader himself?
"They're total cock teases. They love attention from boys, but they never do anything," Droste offers laconically. "Never say never, but I kind of feel like if you're hanging with me in New York City and there are a million fags everywhere and dozens of opportunities ... I'm just gonna drop it and accept the fact." (Kimberly Chun)
Fri/29, 9 p.m.
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