A song of movement, tension, and atmosphere, “Grown Ocean” feels like a meditation more than a song, with a racing heartbeat and a palpable sense of yearning. We never quite get the resolution we’re looking for. We are in a dream and are not quite waking up.
Musically, the song feels rooted in barely more than one chord, which has a lot to do with the subtle sense of anxiousness generated—it’s as if the music itself is looking for a way out of the song. Although buoyed by soothing harmonies and acoustic strummings, “Grown Ocean” offers nothing that quite settles us down. The percussion is both relentless and muted. There’s not really a chorus. Instrumentally, the song gives us subtle layers but little to ground our ear. And there is no catharsis—when we arrive at the central instrumental break, at 2:18, the music merely shimmers with quiet, unplaceable sounds, as restrained and unflamboyant as possible. (Note that instruments on the album include zither, wood flute, tamboura, and marxophone; it’s understandable if the sounds are somewhat unplaceable.)
And then there’s that odd, clipped a capella coda. Any song that does that you don’t necessarily have to like, but you’ve got to respect. Fleet Foxes front man Robin Pecknold is a serious guy; I have a feeling that we should none of us hold the band’s unexpected previous successes against them. They are in this thing for the long haul. “Grown Ocean” is from the Seattle-based sextet’s much-anticipated second album, Helplessness Blues. MP3 via Sub Pop. I also recommend reading the band’s bio, which was written by Pecknold himself and, except for the fact that he leaves out his own last name, is both engaging and informative.