At 11 tracks long, Friend barely qualifies as an EP, and yet it's far too weird and scattered -- in the best possible way -- to work as a full-fledged Grizzly Bear album. As kitchen sink eclectic as Yellow House was polished and cohesive, Friend tosses new versions of songs from both Yellow House and Horn of Plenty in with new songs, covers, and cameos from some of the band's closest pals. The reworkings of Horn of Plenty tracks are some of the mini-album's most striking moments: "Alligator (Choir Version)" turns the song from homespun glitch-pop into trippy, thundering rock, with Beirut and the Dirty Projectors lending their voices to the aforementioned choir. "Shift" is just as fragile and spooky here as it was in its original version, but its expansiveness shows just how much Grizzly Bear's sound has grown -- literally -- since the Horn of Plenty days. On the flip side, the band distorts and deconstructs the songs from Yellow House almost beyond recognition. "Little Brother (Electric Version)" trades the original's delicate picking for huge riffs, while two of Yellow House's other definitive songs, "Knife" and "Plans," get makeovers courtesy of two bands that couldn't sound more different from Grizzly Bear or each other. CSS turns "Knife" into fizzy synth pop that actually sounds like a song by the Knife, while Band of Horses brings out the rustic heart of "Plans" with banjo and terrific close harmonies. Interestingly, the cover of "Knife" by Atlas Sound (the solo project of Deerhunter's Bradford Cox) comes the closest to Grizzly Bear's usual sound, if there is such a thing, out of anything on Friend. Grizzly Bear also contributes a cover, a striking version of "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)" that underscores the song's romance and menace -- as well as its wall of sound production -- while subverting it. Songs like this and the wild, untitled surf instrumental that closes Friend don't exactly fit together in any obvious way, other than showing that Grizzly Bear is no stranger to reinventing themselves. Still, their loose ends are more interesting, and often more satisfying, than many other bands' most ambitious, accomplished music.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares
feat: Band of Horses
feat: Atlas Sound