Grizzly Bear's Marla
by Sean
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.


Grizzly Bear - "Marla"
Marla - "Of Course You Can't Go Without That" (exclusive)

I wrote before about Grizzly Bear's Yellow House. I said they had taught their garden to sing. That's a strange thing to say: how can a garden sing? It would have to be inhabited. With crickets and moths, maybe. Or nightingales. Or gardeners.

Or with ghosts.

I've carried Yellow House with me through many days and nights, on the streets and in my home. (When my mood was soaring or when I was drifting, woozy. Both of these things.) It is a music at once diaphonous and bodily, like a hand you can occasionally take and occasionally not. Like the way you can feel sunshine, sometimes, as you walk through a dusty band of it. There's an insideness to the music, - close, murmured, tender, - brought outside. Or an outsideness - wild, fertile, ripe, - brought in. Things walking where they should and shouldn't.

The Grizzly Bear song "Marla" is perhaps the most haunted of any on Yellow House. A piano sounds, an attic whispers, and voices gather like spirits in a cup. The strings, arranged by Final Fantasy, dip and rise like an old phonograph (gramophone?) record.

And here we come to a woman called Marla.


The song "Marla" is named for the great-great-aunt of Ed Droste, Grizzly Bear's founder (and a StG guestblogger last year). In the 1930s she moved from Boston to New York to be a singer. She failed, and by the end of the forties, she had drunk herself to death.

"Marla" takes its melody and words by one of the few things the real Marla left behind: this song, all full of sepia flowers. There are no attic sounds, no voices gathering in a cup. In the original recording we hear just the lace of Marla's voice, the ringing rise of the piano line - quickening, breathless. But already there's something unsettling in the cadences; something that wants and lingers. Not the sound of a ghost, yet perhaps - just a little - the premonition of one. Something already stirring in the drapes.

Ed explained to me, by IM:

"she's looking for things
before [my great grandfather] goes on a trip
to teach at a university
i believe that's what the song is about
she's running around the house
fetching his things
funny to think he'd travel with his file/drill and clam shells
I believe by drill she meant a hand drill that he'd use to crack the shells into various shapes
then he'd file the edges
so they were soft
before he'd fit them together
the color of the clam shells go from white to blue/purple
and various shades between"

From white to blue/purple
and various shades between.

Do you ever wonder the colour of memory?

[Yellow House is now available to buy (US/UK) and it is certainly one of the finest albums of the year.]

Posted by Sean at September 11, 2006 3:00 AM

Great post, Sean ! Thanks.

Posted by garrincha at September 11, 2006 5:35 AM

this is a great story

you were the first to show me yellow house sean. as always way ahead of the pack

Posted by marla at September 11, 2006 7:21 AM

i do now

(aunty A would sure love that one)

Posted by ru at September 11, 2006 7:52 AM

Very nice. I picture a sinister carousel on the first one (something wicked this way comes).

Posted by Tuwa at September 11, 2006 9:35 AM

what a beautifully sad story. a truly great post!

Posted by Jenn at September 11, 2006 10:20 AM

Every fucking day I wonder the colour of memory. It looks and sounds like a sepia flower haunted by nightingales and gardeners. It feels so inside, but still from the outside. You know, like a dusty band of sunshine.

Truly great post! I really dig!

Posted by daniel at September 11, 2006 12:06 PM

if you want to hear the record, good news:

Yellow House is streaming at VPRO -


Posted by bmr at September 11, 2006 12:25 PM

that was so sweet!!!

Posted by dang at September 12, 2006 4:45 PM

i loved this..

Posted by musicisart at September 12, 2006 4:58 PM

what a gem!! this is what i live for--- the origin of inspiration and the sad story behind it... you kick ass... i cant believe i know own the original version of this song..

Posted by caleb at September 12, 2006 11:02 PM

Good one, this song stuck out for me when I first listened to the album. It's such a strange ghost-town of a song, like aimless nighttime trodding on fallen saloon doors.

Posted by Dave at September 15, 2006 8:08 AM

Ok, again:

Every fucking day I wonder the colour of memory. It looks and sounds like a sepia flower haunted by some nightingales and gardeners. It feels so inside, but still from the outside. You know, like a dusty band of sunshine.

Maybe some day someone will recognize my pretentious and semi-dramatic mumblings as the work of a true poet and genius which it is. Until that day I will visit your blog for inspiration. so said my gramophone. crap.

Posted by daniel at September 15, 2006 8:46 AM

A really great post - insightful.

Posted by Brad aka Penguin at September 16, 2006 3:52 PM

Great post - any chance you could repost that original song?

Posted by Frank at September 22, 2007 12:47 PM

beautiful source of inspiration.

Posted by Pedram at May 6, 2010 3:40 AM

[Grizzly Bear] "taught their garden to sing" [...] "when my mood was soaring or when I was drifting, woozy" [...] "at once diaphonous and bodily, like a hand you can occasionally take occasionally not. Like the way you can feel sunshine, sometimes, as you walk through a dusty band of it. There's an insideness to the music, - close, murmured, tender, - brought outside. Or an outsideness - wild, fertile, ripe, - brought in. Things walking where they should and shouldn't." Yup, just copy-pasting these sensations you kindly expressed on my behalf. The choice of words is brilliant - not "poetic", but true poetry - you've internalized this music palpable.

As for "Marla", my favourite off YH lyrics-wise, I'm a tiny bit disappointed at reading Ed's explanations. I had this interpretation [which I'm dying to share] where the singer is this Mr. Forbes' housekeeper, assistant girl, mistress, or even wife, someone who lives with/under the same roof as - him [and is, openly or secretly, in love with him]. He wants to move away/leave her, and she has hidden/discarded/destroyed some of his belongings, to keep him around a little longer [seeing as: 1) if she lives there and must know her way around the house; 2) the likes of a cello or harp aren't easily misplaced]. While this sounds like an impishly funny act of mischief, its utter conspicuousness actually denotes sad sense of despair - she is basically admitting her inferiority to a bunch of inanimate objects - he could well go without her, but he "can't go without that". So we get an ironic mix of childish denial and resignation, of hopelessness and bittersweet empty gratification. And this is why I think the lyrics to this song are a black gem, and the gloomy delivery does them unwitting justice.

Posted by Adriana Volceanov at September 12, 2010 3:55 PM

Hello, is there any chance to listen to original Marla's song? I cannot find it anywhere. I wrote to Ed Droste. He told me he'll post it somewhere but he never did. Can you help me?

Posted by Dominik at February 2, 2012 4:02 PM

The orchestration is very reminiscent of some Gavin Bryars stuff.

Posted by Tron at March 13, 2015 12:33 AM

How strange to have a song with my name.. I love it. Is this a coincidence ! WOW

Posted by marla grizzle at June 21, 2016 12:07 PM

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