The Friend EP finds Grizzly Bear scrolling through their indie rock rolodex for an inspiring collection of covers, collaborations and alternate recordings. Featuring contributions by the Dirty Projectors, Band of Horses, Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox and Beirut’s Zach Condon, among others, Friend is far more than a scrambled attempt to hold fans over until the band completes a follow-up to last year’s critically acclaimed psych-folk symphony, Yellow House.
There are some eclectic takes on well-established Grizzly Bear tracks. The “choir version” of ‘Alligator’, which originally appeared on 2004’s Horn of Plenty, is among the most notably re-worked material in that it contains an epically extended coda featuring the Dirty Projectors and Zach Condon. Elsewhere, ‘Little Brother’ is electrified and ‘Shift’ is, um, shifted, yet both retain the eerie harmonies and lush atmospherics that initially made them so memorable.
More interesting, however, are the covers. Some might find the multiple versions gratuitous, (there are two covers of both Yellow House standouts ‘Knife’ and ‘Plans’ alone) but in actuality these different takes go to show how Grizzly Bear’s autumnal ambience and skeletal melodies easily lend themselves to reinterpretation. Brazilian dance-rock collective CSS’s version of ‘Knife’ is probably the most drastic reworking on the EP. Jarring without a doubt, with its throbbing electro-pop bleeps and jagged synths, the song’s undoubtedly original, if not undoubtedly weird. Atlas of Sound (Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox), meanwhile, carves the same song into a hazy, spacey dreamscape. Band of Horses opts to tinge ‘Plans’ with banjos and bluegrass to quite a pleasant effect. If there is one overriding theme cohering these eclectic covers it’s this: genre is essentially irrelevant.
Grizzly Bear themselves also get in on the cover action. Their otherworldly take on 60s girl-group classic ‘He Hit Me’ is a reworking so transformative it renders the Crystals’ original impotent. The traditional folk song ‘Deep Blue Sea’, a solo home recording by Dan Rossen is equally poignant, as to exude maximum emotion from its simple acoustic minimalism.
While those unfamiliar with the band might be put off by the scattershot nature of the EP, there are plenty of sound nuggets sure to delight the band’s established fans.