Artist: Grizzly Bear
Label: Warp Records
Due Out: May 26th
A couple of times per year, an album comes out that catches your ear immediately. You're hooked from the first note, and when it's over, you will automatically hit repeat, maybe even more than once. As was the case with Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavillion, the same is true for Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest. Flowing, active and easy to listen to, Veckatimest is a huge step in the progression of a band that has not always been amazingly accessible, but now seems more so. There's structure here, but it's all for the better, as Grizzly Bear has created a room full of different and eclectic sounds, all working together to build the catchy and enjoyable melodies you hear throughout. I'll just go out on a limb here and say that as of right now, the competition for album of the year is between MPP and this.
"Southern Point" starts us off, quick, yet soft and building, as it eases us into the record. The background noise ebbs and flows before the one-minute mark, teasing you as to when the track finally opens itself up. It's a song very indicative of the album's overall personality- a seemingly muffled joy. This is, like many of this year's albums, a positive experience. Next comes the track that anyone who's followed Grizzly Bear over the past six months knows- "Two Weeks". A catchy and jumpy piano beat introduces us to a haunting chorus of soaring vocals to backup lead singer Daniel Rossen. This song, similar to the intro, effectively utilizes an eclectic group of sounds to support a strong and strident melody to perfection. Following that, "All We Ask" slows it down just slightly in the onset, once again using a slow crescendo to build towards a more engaging middle, before fading itself out into the eery "Fine For Now". As the song creeps along, it picks up other sounds and instrumental portions, until it hits the more active middle. One of the more notable things heard throughout the album is the ever-present falsetto chorus on several tracks. Sometimes out front, and other times dropping back, it adds an emotional element and layer to the songs, and actually provides as an instrument in its own right.
"Cheerleader" brightens up as compared to the previous two songs. Moving at a steady pace, the staggered guitar riff in the back plays well off the percussion elements and effect-laden vocals, dueling each other in the high and low octave range, respectively. Slow to start, next is "Dory". The song is actually about a small boat, however, many have incorrectly (myself included), yet entertainingly identified the name with the character from Finding Nemo. Fictional fish aside, the track's wistful and plodding nature lend to the boat imagery extremely well. Still, I wouldn't get overly comfortable in that mindset, as tribal drum beats kick in immediately to start "Ready, Able". As the track gets going more, that beat recedes quite a bit though, giving way to the haunting vocals and interesting effects countering each other in an interesting seesaw of sound before combining into one, and then giving way to the distortion-heavy guitar part. "About Face" begins similarly to the previous track, possessing a quick percussion part, this time along with an accompanying guitar. For this entire song, you feel as if it's about to open up, yet never does, as you're seemingly roped along by the band for the three-plus minutes, before its abrupt halt (not necessarily a bad thing).
Switching back to a more mellow and quiet mood, "Hold Still" is a brief and floating track that seems to effortlessly hop through its progressions while bridging the gap from the middle to the end of the record, starting with "While You Wait For Others". For any Department of Eagles (Rossen's other band) fans, you'll probably recognize this one immediately, as it borrows a bit from DoE's "Herring Bone". However, it does use enough its own elements to differentiate the two tracks, adding a more active vocal chorus and more apparent guitar elements than its predecessor. Next, "I Live With You" is the album's last track to fit into the active wall of sound, and the comfortable ebbing and flowing of both volume and tempo. This track may use the full range of instrumentation at the band's disposal better than any other, even incorporating what sounds like a saxophone part into its busy mid-section. Then, there's the closer, "Foreground". As I alluded to, this track is much different from the rest of the record. It's fairly bare-bones, just a piano ballad to close out the album that is most appropriate after the nearly breath-taking previous track, and does a fantastic job of providing closure for the listener. While the last notes ping off of the piano keys, you can feel see your hand moving towards the play button again, I guarantee it.
This isn't the first time I've said this about a band this year, and I'm sure it won't be the last, but here we go- this was their best effort to-date. So many different elements going on here, yet they're all so effective, it's hard to deny that Veckatimest is a complete work, showcasing the band's strengths and giving us a listening experience that is some of the best music this year. Rossen seemed to take into consideration DoE's movement towards a more accessible sound, and adjusted Grizzly Bear accordingly, yet they can still function as two separate entities. What makes this record most interesting to me is that I really feel it can appeal to a wide range of listeners, including those who don't feel they get anything out of this type of music. I'd recommend it to anyone. For similarities, feel free to check out the aforementioned Department of Eagles, Here We Go Magic, and The Dodos.
Best Track: "Two Weeks"