Douglas Martin doesn’t own jewelry. Not even a watch.
For over a decade, Grizzly Bear’s proximity to the zeitgeist has directed quite a few too many fans away from their quiet innovation. Miscategorized as “freak-folk” even though Horn of Plenty featured about as much acoustic guitar as The Blueprint 2. Featured as a “Brooklyn indie band” long before either Brooklyn or indie played themselves out. Brought “Two Weeks” to our offices, dorm rooms, and hip twentysomething dinner parties right around the time Apple was throwing money at Leslie Feist. Hailed as Jonny Greenwood’s favorite band back when a band was the last thing you’d expect the members of Radiohead to listen to. I could easily throw out more examples, but I don’t have any beef with Cape Cod and I expended my Jay-Z quota when I referenced his 2002 double album.
The aforementioned wealth of examples would normally be damning evidence of the disposability of the always-on-trend guitar group—surely an even greater problem than it was in, say, 2009—but in the case of Grizzly Bear, their attention and dedication to craft has prevented them from getting swept up and thrown away with any number of groups who have moved away from Brooklyn and back home with their parents in Indiana. Yellow House is still one of my favorite records from this century, and “Two Weeks” still gets the dance floor poppin’ with the kind of people who would gush on a first date about their halcyon days as a drum major/first chair clarinet player.
When a circular, danceable rhythm opens “Three Rings,” it immediately sounds like a departure for Grizzly Bear, the band who earned their stripes infusing harmony-laden folk and pop music with stirring modern-classical-style arrangements and a recording sensibility that felt like a contemporary auteur getting his hands on the last pristine reel of unused 35mm film. (The descriptor “modern but rustic” is close to what they do, but also makes me feel like I’m mocking them.) The inclination of forthcoming departure is immediately replaced by that of evolution.
All the hallmarks of a great Grizzly Bear single are here. Daniel Rossen’s ringing, crystalline guitar being plucked and strummed, changing textures without losing its shine; the graceful harmonies; Ed Droste’s smooth-but-lovesick croon, weary but without varnish; the masterful syncopation of Chris Bear’s drumming, proving he’s one of the most underrated drummers in music today; and the warmth of Chris Taylor’s production and the ingenuity of the arrangements he writes. My initial thought on the song was that it sounded like one of the handful of younger bands on Taylor’s Terrible Records imprint, but as soon as I could form those thoughts, it shifted into a quintessential Grizzly Bear song.
A good number of Grizzly Bear songs are love songs, which by virtue of practice is circling well-paved terrain over and over again. The thing about Grizzly Bear, though, is they manage to subvert cliche because of their talent as musicians, making their songs about love as vast and adventurous as the feelings these songs are meant to convey.