VMP is featuring Grizzly Bear’s third studio album, Veckatimest, as our October 2021 Essentials Record of the Month. The album launched the band into the mainstream, going so far as to eventually shape the way other genres evolved, too, an impact that’s further explained in the album’s Listening Notes .
This primer explores the band’s meaningful catalog, taking note of their sounds before and after the release of Veckatimest. Beginning with vocalist Ed Droste’s mostly solo album under the Grizzly Bear moniker, Horn of Plenty, and moving through their most recent 2017 album, Painted Ruins, walking through the band’s discography is a journey that puts their talents and unique music into perspective.
Horn of Plenty (2004)
Back in 2004, there were no expectations for Grizzly Bear to erupt as massively as they did. For Ed Droste, it was a project recorded in the aftermath of a breakup. He channeled his feelings into demos that would eventually become Horn of Plenty. The album seems to be far removed from the sound Grizzly Bear cultivated in later albums, primarily sitting in the catalog as a project headed by Droste. He drones across the album, letting his voice blend into the ambience. The sound swims through headphones, and it’s a feeling similar to that of running in a dream. No matter how hard or fast you try to move through the songs, a weight drapes over your shoulders. Of course, the feeling is solely attributed to the band’s ability to package the melancholy associated with Droste’s breakup and reconstruct it into an engaging album. It also helps that the album unintentionally wears elements like distant vocals and instruments that give it a withered, relatable quality.
Yellow House (2006)
The ties Grizzly Bear have to Cape Cod are strong, even during this 2006 album, which is named after Droste’s mother’s yellow house. While the time elapsed between Horn of Plenty and Yellow House was a mere two years, the change in sound is immense, which is also hugely due to Christopher Bear and the additions of Daniel Rossen and Chris Taylor. Yellow House features a significantly crisper sound, even in the first few notes of the opening track “Easier.” The album, while still preserving its ambience and experimentation, both sounds and feels more intentional with its approach. Beyond the hushed moments in Yellow House, the bandmates plainly work in tandem to bring out towering sounds.
By this point, Grizzly Bear had become synonymous with stirring melodies and indie rock emblematic of the first decade of the 2000s. Following Veckatimest, Shields is a continuation of how the band found their accessible approach on Veckatimest seemed to resonate with more widespread audiences. While previous albums had instruments clashing in a mesmerizing way like an artist working on an abstract painting, this album pans out with a charming, slightly more reserved quality.
Painted Ruins (2017)
Since 2017’s Painted Ruins, Grizzly Bear has not released another album. Painted Ruins seems to almost entirely shy away from the experimentation in Grizzly Bear’s first album. Despite this, the album still clearly maintains that classic indie rock sound specific to the band. It’s an 11-track album that most obviously illustrates their evolution. Between ruminative songs to ones that push forward with a sense of weightlessness, Painted Ruins covers it all.