Grizzly Bear have grown tremendously in their brief three-year recording career. Their debut Horn of Plenty (essentially Ed Droste’s bedroom solo recordings) exhibits songwriting ability, but lacks the richness in texture the band demonstrates during live performances and on last year’s Yellow House. They use the first track (among others) on their Friend EP to address this issue, revisiting a song from that first record, “Alligator”. This alternate version is not simply an alternately mixed or remastered version of the same recording—rather, the song is stripped bare, and rebuilt from scratch. Aside from the lyrics, the Friend version is nearly unrecognizable from its lo-fi counterpart, an improvement for sure. This approach to reinvention is applied also to Horn of Plenty’s “Shift” and Yellow House’s “Little Brother”, with exceptional results. A Terrible vs. Nonhorse rework of “Plans” is so drastic that it literally cuts apart the album version and splices it together into a delightfully dissonant musique concrète piece.
But Friend does not consist solely of Grizzly Bear’s retakes on old songs. The band uses this record to showcase a pleasant trio of previously unreleased tracks, and a trio of Grizzly Bear songs covered by other artists. In this sense, the Friend EP is a release which is unsure of itself: not quite a rarities collection, a remix record, nor a covers compilation. And, clocking in at just over 43 minutes, it’s not even really an EP.
Yet, it is not until 2/3 of the way into this record that we are confronted with any sort of inconsistency. After six of Grizzly Bear’s enchanting mid-tempo indie-rock numbers, we are faced with a CSS synth-pop cover of “Knife”. This is followed immediately by Band of Horses’ ridiculous twangy hillbilly take on “Plans”. These covers seem almost laughably out of place here (Atlas Sound’s atmospheric version of “Knife” holds up a little better). The insertion of these covers creates an uncomfortable discontinuity in an otherwise pristine record.
Perhaps Friend is given its “EP” status simply to make this incoherence more forgivable. I am willing to give Grizzly Bear a second chance here—after all, their own contributions to this release are solid gold. Now more than ever, Grizzly Bear’s recorded works are able to capture the charisma of their live performances. Aside from a few missteps, Friend is another stride forward on the path to indie-rock greatness. I have nothing but high hopes for the next LP.