(warning - I'm late to the party on this one)
It's another one of those albums where I had no idea what was coming. Well, I had some idea, but it was buried so deep in my "music to get" txt file that I could barely remember. Lo-fi pop, I think I thought. Folk. Well, I was almost right. Grizzly Bear has a cool thing going on - their music is relatively simple, but subtle and very good. They remind me of Parsley Sound first, in their hushed Simon and Garfunkel-esque vocals. Then it's like a shot of the Shins' first album, but furry and de-jangled. Lastly, there's a hint of the naive brilliance of Remora, whose simple melodies couldn't be called accomplished, but whose essential knowledge of making compelling music is unquestionable. I might even throw a little Kallikak Family in there, just to make a sort of hipster four-play.
There's an experimental quality to the music as well; for example, "Alligator" has the distorted, unearthly sound of Black Moth Super Rainbow, and the vocals of "Disappearing Act" and "Showcase" tread where Elliot Smith only dabbled. The songwriting is hit-and-miss, to be honest. For every sure thing like "Don't Ask" there is a misstep like "Fix it," where you see where they were going but you can tell they didn't get there. While I understand the members of the band to be pretty accomplished, the music is far from technically good. The bulk of the harmony is created by multitracked vocals, which can be great but can't always create the right sound for a song.
In any case, since I'm so far behind the times, I look forward to stepping right into these guys' newer releases; perhaps they've smoothed out the hiccups in the last couple years. I guess there is also a set of remixes out there, though I don't see this music lending itself too well to any new mixes. Still, this is a great album and even if you don't like the whole thing, there are some songs that are too good to pass up. Here are the first two.