Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cats And Dogs, Living Together

I never thought I'd say these words, but here goes:

I like Grizzly Bear's new song, "Two Weeks." I like it a LOT.

I'm as shocked by this as anyone. I'm supposed to hate that song with the flame of a thousand cases of gonorrhea. And yet I don't. What's wrong with me???

I hate Grizzly Bear as much as anyone else. They're a quartet of effete, self-serious twats who make Vampire Weekend look like the fucking Dropkick Murphys. I could rant for hours about their meritless rise to stardom, fueled by a legion of headphone-riddled professional-ish bloggers. They are exactly what's wrong with indie "rock" at the present moment, forcing me to put rock in double quotes.

Here's what I wrote about their breakthrough LP in late 2006:

Worst Album Of The Year
Grizzly Bear - Yellow House

No contest. After several tries, I remain entirely confused by Yellow House's critical success. It's a boring, meandering, unremarkable turd. Even their idea (beautiful lo-fi pop) is a piece of shit, never mind the fact that they failed to execute it. Since when did Beach Boys harmonies become the indie scene's top priority? This band sucks.

Put it this way. Car trouble caused them to miss a gig here in DC. opening for TVOTR, back in October. Their absence on that night ranks as one of the luckiest things that happened to me all year.

Ouch. Gotta love the Beach Boys slam, which seems particularly prescient prior to the preponderance of Pet Sounds preoccupation amongst pundits pertaining to Panda Bear's putrid, pallid personal project, Person Pitch. But yeah, Yellow House sucks harder than a thousand pounds of barnacles. It's as unlistenable as my alliteration is unreadable.

The impending release of Veckatimest set all my early alarms off. The reception of Merriweather Post Pavilion gave me an idea of what was to come from the blogosphere and criterati; already primed to hate Veckatimest and anyone who didn't, I planned to skip the album and the entire conversation.

Then something unexpected happened: they wrote a Wolf Parade song. That buzzing keyboard, jutting out into the main hook, would fit in nicely on Apologies To The Queen Mary. It brings a rough edge to a band that is typically soft to the point of detriment. Good thing too, because unlike every lifeless, flaccid millisecond of Yellow House, "Two Weeks" actually has some verve to it. Congratulations boys, you realized what effect music is supposed to have on people.

But even though it's fucking "Hey Jude" compared to their earlier output, it isn't nearly as effective as it could have been. It's an old chestnut of mine: when the song's natural momentum gets throttled by design, in order to draw attention to the painstaking musical design, you fucked up. Sure enough, the drum work, which is otherwise far improved, drives the energy backwards, not forwards. I feel the music being pulled back when I listen. I guess it's interesting that I can feel that so vividly, but I dunno.

I found it interesting that the premise of the video, i.e. the lugubrious facial tics, the digitally-enhanced slo-mo drag of eye blinks etc., is a digital representation of what I hear the drums doing. You are waiting impatiently for the eye to come all the way up, just like you're waiting impatiently for the song to catch up with what your brain expects.

It's just more evidence that the band's conceit, to drag music downtempo, to suck the urgency out and proceed as carefully and deliberately as possible, is what's holding "Two Weeks" back. With a more talented ear at the helm, "Two Weeks" would be a legitimate sensation, but instead it's just a likable curiosity. One need look no further than Girl Talk's amazing remix of "Knife" from a couple years back to hear how brilliant GB's songs can be when taken out of their boring-ass hands. In someone else's hands, you could be looking at seriously classic shit.

Instead, as fits GB's raison d'etre, the song has been soaked in milk. That slower pace to the vocals; their trademark, gimmicky church harmonies; the almost clunky interplay between drums (livelier than anywhere else in GB's recent work) and piano/keyboard... it's all part of the playbook. "Knife" is their mission statement; the suffocation of "Two Weeks" is just a reminder.

This is why I have the degree of bile I have for this band: it's frustrating enough for their addictive hooks to be straight-up bungled, but they are actually given MORE credit for doing it wrong than anyone else gets for doing it right! It's just amazing.

Odd that after 700 words I've spent this much time bitching about a song I ultimately like. Reminds me of my take on "My Girls," which I also enjoy freely. I think so little of AC that I've graded "My Girls" on a curve, thus crediting them for making a half-decent song more than they deserve, all while hating their guts. Likewise, the fact that "Two Weeks" is merely listenable had me sprinting to my Blogger dashboard to spill out all this internal conflict. I can't just like/dislike their music at face value, because in the end I want much more from them than this. Whatever that all means.

But ultimately, I have to hand it to them. It's a goddamn ear worm. I can't stop thinking about it, or humming along to it. They did exactly what they needed to do to win me over: something different from that thing that made me wish sterility and cancer upon them. Something that actually speaks to what I like about music. It's a legitimate pop tune. Well done.

As for the other tracks on Veckatimest... I haven't made up my mind on the entirety of it, but it's not as unpleasant an experience as Yellow House. Not by a longshot. Not only am I not bored out of my gourd, I'm actually leaning positive on it. I know one thing for certain: I won't be putting them in the "Worst Of The Year" category this year. Upset of the new century, by a country mile.

Now, of course, I have a new problem: who is left for me to bestow that dishonor upon? To destroy Freddie Mercury's sentiment... can anybody find me somebody to loathe? I never thought I'd say THESE words, either, but I sure hope Deerhoof or Clap Your Hands Say Yeah puts out new music soon...