Predictably lumped into the current spate of mammal-loving shamans who color our daydreams, Grizzly Bear transcend the stuttering half steps of their brethren with an expansive sophomore offering. Autumnal shades of harmony and fuzz-covered acoustics move through Yellow House, a logical extension of the basement songcraft heard on the band’s debut, Horn of Plenty. Throughout this album’s 50 patient minutes, frontman Ed Droste draws inspiration from drowsy evenings spent with perpetual patriarch Brian Wilson, his voice moving from hesitant mumble to spirited revelry. Opener ‘Easier’ sets the album’s tone, blending woodwinds, banjos and barstool piano into an operatic collage of velvet string samples and back-porch harmony.
Forgotten doo-wop classic ‘Knife’ cements Droste’s Beach Boys influence, its fringes filled with the same tinny coos employed by the Animal Collective. Such comparison, though unavoidable, threatens to deflate the considerable charm of Grizzly Bear, because the band warrants attention beyond current trends in slightly dazed folk-rock. Particularly notable is their meticulous craftsmanship — the crisp production framing Yellow House sounds endlessly more appealing than the muddy aural stew through which so many “freak” records float. Beneath each plucked string and breathy chorale lies a bed of handmade sonic unrest that calls notice to itself only when the surrounding chords die down. Like softly crinkling paper, these layered effects work particularly well in buoying the hazy flurries of ‘Lullaby’ and the humming crescendos of ‘On a Neck, On a Spit.’
For all their shifting special effects, Grizzly Bear are not particularly experimental, most often adorning slightly irregular song forms with digital accessories. They are, at heart, an indie-rock band, and despite a clear gift for fey harmonics, Droste drifts more than once toward lazy, wordless recitation as the band moves through mid-tempo filler. Yet just when the group threatens to descend into weary amateurism, they deliver gems like the late Waits waltz ‘Marla’ or the mountainous closer ‘Colorado’. With a developing presence on the tour circuit and a flurry of enthusiastic endorsements, Grizzly Bear will continue to offer small surprises to those willing to give ear to a clearly deserving group.