My Top 20 Songs of 2012 #12: Grizzly Bear – ‘Sun In Your Eyes’

grizzly bear

Or?

grizzly bears

In 2009, Grizzly Bear went into the US top 10 with their third album, Veckatimest. They spear-headed a group of bands from across the pond who broke into the mainstream with albums that were often a bit tricky. Whether they were trying to or not, they began to pull the Radiohead trick of managing to sell lots of records with music that didn’t dumb down for an imagined audience of idiots (whatever you think of Thom Yorke and Chris Martin, it’s difficult to imagine Radiohead ever releasing a song with the lyrics: “You might be a big fish in a little pond/Doesn’t mean you’ve won/’cos along may come a bigger one”). Given that Grizzly Bear toured with Radiohead and Jonny Greenwood publicly declared them to be his favourite band, it suggests that this wasn’t a scenario they stumbled into by accident.

Shields is another excellent album, if a bit more of a slow-burner than Veckatimest. As with Veckatimest there is a certain meticulousness to the songs (you can see why they were signed to the Warp label), but despite the occasional misstep, the songs don’t lack soul. The best example of this is the final song on the album, ‘Sun In Your Eyes’. It’s an epic song that never resorts to the clichés so often found in epic songs. There are no “woah-ohs”*, the obligatory fallback position that lazy stadium rock bands *cough-Kings of Leon-cough* use to replicate heartfelt emotion. It starts off as a piano ballad, reminiscent in its odd time signature of Radiohead’s astonishing ‘Pyramid Song’. As the song build, it undulates between a controlled racket replete with blaring horns and moments of quietude that utilise intricate harmonies. There is a moment around the 4:20 mark where, having built up to a crescendo, everything falls silent. The usual epic trick here would be to burst back into a joyous racket, but instead it drops back the sort of stripped-back piano you might hear on a Thelonious Monk record. Better still, this is all underpinned by a beautiful, delicate melody. A stunning, stunning song.

 

 

*I had a brief debate about this with a good friend recently, who said that my dismissal of “woah-ohs” as lazy was, in itself, lazy. As with any generalisation, he was of course right. It’s not intrinsically lazy to use a “woah-oh” in music. However, as with the key change (everyone stand up off your stools), it has been overused to such an extent that it starts to feel like a lazy gimmick. Surely there is something more viscerally exciting in hearing an artist find new ways to express a thought or a feeling, without relying on something that has become trite and clichéd. The worst thing about overuse is that it can sully the original thing that it came from, as with adverts that rip off Wim Wenders movies, which can ruin the enjoyment of the original films by taking all of the artistry and making you think: “oh, that looks like that rubbish thing that tried to make me want a Ford Focus”.

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