The first time I heard Christopher Bear's drumming was in the band Earl Greyhound—a guitar-driven power-rock trio whose style edges up against hard-hitting, chest-thumping Zeppelin blooze. Imagine my surprise when I saw Bear a couple years later manning the kit for Grizzly Bear—a band that had already chosen its name before he joined—playing restrained but fully dynamic percussion parts that set my notions of drumming on its ear. Eschewing superfluous toms and even a bass drum, Bear shuttled from snare to floor tom, using just a sprinkling of cymbal, switching from brush to stick to mallet, dialing up cavernous echo from an effects sideboard. His drum parts were as much of the composition as the band's Zombies-esque four-part harmonies, or its charmingly gloomy songwriting, which at times sounded like an Edward Gorey drawing put to music.
Bear's drumming is my personal favorite thing about Grizzly Bear, a band that has no shortage of qualities that could become other people's personal favorite things. Some may be drawn to bassist Chris Taylor's huge swarm of effects pedals, which he manipulates with the dexterity of a submarine technician. Some may admire the classic sound of Daniel Rossen's hollow-body guitar, a wooden echo straight from the Django Reinhardt era, filtered through a history of not so much rock 'n' roll but a parallel course of surreal Hollywood soundtracks. And some will swoon over Ed Droste's crystalline, creamy voice and the foppish, Wildean angst of his stage presence.
Grizzly Bear's dreamlike third album, Veckatimest, sees the balance shift away from Droste, who started Grizzly Bear as a solo project, to Rossen's newly dominant voice and songwriting. This comes on the heels of Rossen's successful Department of Eagles side project, which at one point contained both Bear and Taylor in its ranks. As a whole, Veckatimest betrays Rossen's taste for tangled, silky gossamer. It's Droste who hosts the album's best earworm, the lurching, splendid "Two Weeks," in which a choppy, seasick piano gives way to the wide-open melody of its chorus, aided by glissando spacecraft synths and endless waves of choirboy harmonies. And of course, Chris Bear's phenomenal drumming pushes the whole thing forward.For the Mercury's interview with Grizzly Bear's Ed Droste, click here.