Release Date: May 26, 2009
Record label: Warp
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Brooklyn buzz band turns momentum into a masterpiece Paul Simon, Grizzly Bear was suddenly so ubiquitous that it was easy to forget that they didn’t even have a new album to promote. Yet even while on stage, they were perfecting the material that would comprise their third full-length release, and Veckatimest sounds like the final product of a meticulous and exacting evolutionary process—one that has added depth and color to their swooning chamber pop arrangements, crispness to their intricate rhythms and intensity to their careful performances. Their group mind pulsating in unison, the scrappy Brooklyn quartet has never created songs more wistfully plaintive than the gorgeously swaying “Two Weeks,” more pristinely longing than the spectral “Dory” or more haunting than the darkly lunging “I Live with You.
Veckatimest ain't perfect; lord knows it tries. More than most any album in recent memory not named Chinese Democracy (please keep reading), it is compositionally and sonically airtight, every moment sounding tweaked, labored over. Perfection-- and the pursuit thereof-- has its price, and in less able hands (with all love to Axl), this obsessive attention to craft and execution could lead to something dull.
In the three years following Grizzly Bear’s full-band debut, Yellow House, Edward Droste and company didn’t exactly take great pains to keep the details of their new record a secret. And we, the indie faithful, paid very close attention. We read Stereogum and Pitchfork, lingered on Droste’s modest eloquence when he granted interviews to a smattering of publications.
Until the release of this third album by Brooklyn foursome Grizzly Bear, the titular island of Veckatimest (Gmap) had very little to shout about – well, actually, it has nobody to do its shouting. Tiny, uninhabited, barely above sea level, the smallest member of the Elizabeth Islands chain is, ostensibly, an unremarkable patch of dirt between the Massachusetts mainland and east coast summertime celebrity haunt Martha’s Vineyard. Yet Grizzly Bear saw something in the place they visited while recording in nearby Cape Cod – now, immortalised in art, Veckatimest will always be synonymous with this collection, its makers’ most important release yet.
It’s been almost three years since Grizzly Bear broke through with their excellent 2006 album, Yellow House, but few bands kept blogs and mags busier during that time. Whether it was releasing an EP with a knockout cover of the Crystals’ “He Hit Me,” playing with Paul Simon, performing unreleased songs on Letterman for the hell of it, or doing ironic covers of teen-pop songs for each other’s birthday, Grizzly Bear were never far from the spotlight. It’s hard to place what kept Grizzly Bear on top without any new musical output and only intermittent touring, but a lot of it probably has to do with the lived-in nature of their songs.
Review Summary: Veckatimest works like a cash-back bonus, the more you give in to it, the grander the return.Three years ago, Brooklyn-based Grizzly Bear opened a window to their harmony-laced folk prowess with their sophomore release. Yellow House combined a heart-warming, cozy album with an eerie undertone to form an immaculate record. Since then, there have been only a few hints as to the composition of Veckatimest, other than the Friend EP and their shining track on the Dark Was The Night compilation.
With two six packs in the refrigerator, two friends listen to Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest and, afterward, discuss its merits. One friend is an indie rock-loving hipster with skinny jeans and a obsession with bands like Animal Collective, TV on the Radio and Band of Horses. The other is a rock fanatic who, though open-minded toward experimental folk rock, has little tolerance for pretension.
Cape Cod, the peninsula that unfurls from the easternmost tip of Massachusetts, is notable for many reasons, including white beaches, being the place where the Kennedys spend their summers and the site, in 1903, of the first transatlantic radio broadcast. Rock'n'roll is not one of its attractions, although that is beginning to change. Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa was the signature tune of one of last year's breakthrough artists, New York-based Vampire Weekend, the band's lyrics suggesting local knowledge, their preppy wardrobe hinting at weekends pottering about in sailboats.
And so this year's nominees for the Fleet Foxes slot - a bit weird, a bit folky, but with crossover potential - bring their third album to the public. Fleet Foxes isn't really a fair comparison: there's less of the "Hello trees! Hello flowers!" about Grizzly Bear, who sound more focused, less ethereal. But there are similarities: both bands look to marry an American folk tradition to the audible influence of the Beach Boys.
It's hard to decide what the most impressive thing about Veckatimest is: Grizzly Bear's ambition, which is seemingly boundless, or the fact that this boundless ambition never eclipses these songs. The band already made such an impressive leap from Horn of Plenty to Yellow House that an album to catch their breath would have been understandable. However, Grizzly Bear are most comfortable when they're challenging themselves, and Veckatimest delivers everything that Yellow House did and more.
Don't try listening to Grizzly Bear's third album in a hurry. [rssbreak] Ambitious, brooding and cerebral, Veckatimest grows on you with each listen, bathing you in choirboy vocal harmonies, softly swished drums, laid-back psychedelic guitar patterns and questioning lyrics that focus on difficult negotiations with a loved one. At times it overwhelms, like on the jazzy, folky album opener Southern Point, not because the arrangements are dense or bombastic, but because it's difficult to pinpoint what, exactly, the Brooklyn four-piece is doing.
Much like Animal Collective earlier this year, Brooklyn’s experimental pastoral psych-folk outfit Grizzly Bear have been positioned as a sort of Great White Hope for indie rock in 2009 — a band that, several albums into its career, transcending the fanboy peripherary with an album so fully realized, it demands to be heard by a wider audience. Veckatimest‘s opening tracks absolutely fulfill that promise: the swirling gypsy dazzle of ”Southern Point” and ”Two Weeks,” with its lush Beach Boy melodies and jaunty piano jangle, are intoxicating. If the less immediate second half brings diminishing returns, the early glow still lingers.
Loaded with flourishing arrangements dripping with a bountiful of opulently layered music, Grizzly Bear is a master at delivering, to be succinct, gorgeous music. The group’s arc is an interesting one to follow: there was the bedroom tranquility of Horn of Plenty, which was followed by the ghostly restlessness of Yellow House and then the Brooklyn quartet’s sound changed. With their Friend EP, they employed a deeper, full-fledged ensemble and now, everything comes full circle with Veckatimest, an album that sounds so downright flawless, it feels like a dream.
Grizzly Bear's proper 2006 debut, Yellow House, made bloggers weak in the knees, breathless from flowery adjectives. Thankfully, the NYC quartet's third album is a lot less flowery. String arrangements by boy wonder Nico Muhly shift coolly rather than in a hot blast as piano and guitar flirt with drums and bass. Opener "Southern Point" and follow-up "Two Weeks" strengthen GB's harmonies, and "Fine for Now" rips like CSNY always wanted to, guitars exploding from Edward Droste's casually delivered rhetorical: "If we're all faltering, how do I help with that?" Veckatimest doesn't necessarily propel, but it's an interesting trot, each song echoing the last without feeling too familiar.
Grizzly Bear has experimented with many different ways to color and embellish their folk-pop songs. Their first album, Horn of Plenty, is the closest to a traditional singer-songwriter folk album, perhaps because Edward Droste wrote most of it on his own, before forming the band. Horn of Plenty still employed a range of effects that distorted and altered the otherwise straightforward songs, and by the time the album received a wide release in 2005, Grizzly Bear had commissioned a number of remixes.