Prior to the release of “Three Rings” on Friday, Grizzly Bear posted snippets of individual instrument tracks in the song — as well as others from its forthcoming album — to Instagram, much to the excitement and consternation of fans.
The band recently took to Instagram again to explain themselves: “Our songs are usually so layered and dense and it seemed like a fun way to peel back the onion layers of the new album. It wasn’t meant to torture you!”
It might have felt like torture for four weeks, but listening to the complete song now, that peeling away is valuable. It’s a track as dense as they come, with multitudes of interweaving lines sitting at the antithesis of where boring and repetitive intersect — it’s any repeat-listener’s dream.
“Three Rings” begins with an urgent, rolling drum beat, hollow and drum machine-esque. It is soon joined by the low fuzzy growl of a synth bassline underneath a muted keyboard riff. Moments later Edward Droste enters with a lyrical musing dialogue — whether with himself or with the subject of the song is hard to tell.
The opening is atmospheric, the sense of uncertain trajectory heightened by Droste’s listing, slurred vocals. It is simultaneously calming and compellingly disquieting. As new instrumental lines flow into the composition and old ones sink to persist below them, our certainty of an emotional correspondence between each layer of music grows. We hear the notes contrasting and interlocking, mimicking the way human thought and emotion fold into each other
With the first breath of the quietly rushed lyric — “Is that the way it is?” — the drumline shifts from an even meter to a highly syncopated, Radiohead-esque beat, driving the halting emotions and confused lines at us with an intentional irregularity.
Not once does it return to the straightforward beat of the opening — once Droste is involved, it remains frenzied and jarring, yanking us through the continuously building sonic layers with missing notes and little triplets that keep us from ever feeling comfortable or stable.
The song’s complexity fully emerges at around the one-minute mark, where it falls off into an instrumental interlude. One can almost see the seemingly infinite layers wandering over each other — the persistent hollow percussion, the the tingly symbols, the melancholy “ah’s” — dropping off or fading out into darker mixes that draw out the humming background vocals or into airier spaces where the softer elements can be picked out again.
As the mix reaches a fever pitch, Droste sings with a new impassioned intention, the slurred vocals of earlier are left far behind. Everything is heavier and denser, a roiling mass of sound playing tug of war with the floaty falsetto vocal line above it.
The intricate emotional workings from the beginning of the track, that restrained sense of calm Droste was maintaining, gives way to a complete disregard for emotional differentiation, exposing listeners to the muted chaos that pervades his mind as he contemplates the possibility of someone he loves slipping through his fingers.
The song ends as many relationships do — in a rushing swirl of noise followed by crushing silence, a silence mirroring the exhausted emotional void that’s left behind. But unlike the bitterness of lost love, “Three Rings” demands repeating.
Contact Olivia Jerram at [email protected].