Wednesday, December 26, 2012

If you like Grizzly Bear, thank The Beach Boys

Astute LTF reader Stanford Chiou sent me an email the other day after noticing a striking similarity between a popular Grizzly Bear song and a classic Beach Boys song. An excellent observation, Stanford! Thanks for the tip.

So first, listen to Grizzly Bear's "Two Weeks" from their 2009 release, Veckatimist:

Beautiful, haunting multi-part harmonies really define this song, as they rise gorgeously above the quarter-note piano chords, and then seem to soar into their own atmosphere for a moment before coming back down to earth, drawn by the steady rhythm.

That kind of studied, chorale treatment of vocal harmonies in pop music was arguably invented by The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson, as he wrote ever more complex music that allowed the classic surf band to evolve into cutting-edge pop artists. (Paul McCartney once famously said that The Beach Boy's 1966 Pet Sounds was his favorite album, for that very reason.)

That masterful blend of high vocal harmonies, almost madrigal in style, is on its greatest display in The Beach Boys' "God Only Knows" from the aforementioned Pet Sounds:

Much like the Grizzly Bear song, the soaring vocals are bound to earth by the steady quarter notes (in this song played on an organ rather than a piano, but still a clear inspiration.) The transcendent, ethereal quality of the vocals was the clear inspiration for the Grizzly Bear song. To quote, "The end result is a song that has the orchestral loveliness of a ballad but all the power and forward drive of a good pop tune." I would say the same of Grizzly Bear's "Two Weeks."

So remember, if you like Grizzly Bear, thank The Beach Boys. (And thanks, Stanford!)

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