Grizzly Bear
Label ©  Warp Records
Release Year  2009
Length  52:20
Genre  Experimental Rock
Personal Star Rating [1-5]  
  Ref#  G-0093
Bitrate  ~172 Kbps
    Track Listing:
      Southern Point  
      Two Weeks  
      All We Ask  
      Fine For Now  
      Ready, Able  
      About Face  
      Hold Still  
      While You Wait For The Others  
      I Live With You  
    Additional info: | top
      Grizzly Bear released Yellow House in 2006. It was a slow, steady and stunning ride, and given the album s otherworldly charm and staying power, it s hard to believe three years have gone by. That might seem like a long time. But given Grizzly Bear s hectic touring schedule, including stints with Radiohead, TV On The Radio and Feist as well as several performances during a five-night tribute to Paul Simon at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, a co-headlining show with the L.A. Philharmonic, and the release of Friend, a 10-song EP of re-recorded and re-worked songs, collaborations and covers all this seems reasonable. They ve been busy. But about a year ago, singer/songwriter Ed Droste, drummer Christopher Bear, woodwinds player/bassist Chris Taylor and singer/songwriter/guitarist Daniel Rossen who s other band, Department of Eagles, released the sublime In Ear Park last fall began passing demos around, and working together creatively in different pairs and permutations. A few months later they set off with producer/engineer Chris Taylor s mobile recording rig to begin the recording process for Veckatimest, which would unfold over the next six months in three very singular locations. And in many ways, it is the recording process that reveals this record each space catalyzing different interactions, inspirations, and ultimately, songs. In July, the band spent three weeks at the Glen Tonche house in upstate New York. Though still finding their feet, much of the album s groundwork was laid there. After breaking briefly for the Radiohead tour in August, the band convened at a house on Cape Cod, graciously provided by Droste s grandmother, where they re-addressed and solidified the compositions they d started at Glen Tonche. Lastly, Grizzly Bear came home, to a church in NYC, to fine-tune and complete the album named Veckatimest after a tiny, uninhabited island on Cape Cod that the band visited and was inspired by, particularly liking its Native American name. Artist William O'Brien created Veckatimest s colorful, hand drawn artwork a perfect compliment to the album s enigmatic title. There is an unbelievable clarity of sound and vision to Veckatimest: vocals (a duty shared by all band members) are sharper and more complex, arrangements are tighter, production is more venturous and lyrics more affecting. Having opened the creative dialogue at such an early stage, Grizzly Bear was able to realize these 12 songs together as a band, making it their most collaboratively compositional album to date. This yielded an unexpected mix of material that feels more confident, mature, focused and most of all, dynamic. From songs like 'Dory' (a gracefully psychedelic, ever-evolving work),'Ready Able' (a synth-y opus, and one of four songs that boasts string arrangements by composer Nico Muhly) and 'Foreground' (a plaintive, vocal-driven send-off, and one of two songs to feature choral arrangements also by Muhly) to more resounding pop songs like 'Two Weeks' (an other-worldly doo wop featuring backing vocals from Beach House s Victoria LeGrand) and 'While You Wait For the Others' (a triumphant and melodically cacophonous pop masterpiece), Veckatimest is an album of the highest highs and lowest lows an unbelievably diverse collection of songs that celebrates the strength of each band member, and the power of the whole. It was well worth the wait.

      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. What's perhaps the most remarkable thing about the truly remarkable Veckatimest, however, is how very exciting much of it is; no small feat for a painstaking chamber-pop record that never once veers above the middle tempo.

      2007's Friend EP had me worried that Grizzly Bear's insistence on having everything in its right place had forced formula onto what had seemed to that point freewheeling and free-associative. For every inspired moment on Friend, there was another that fell back on the tried-but-true: a quiet intro bleeding into a big, harmonic midsection followed by an eventual denouement. That sound characterized a few of the better tunes on 2006's Yellow House-- and a fair bit of what little Grizzly Bear has released since. That said, we've had no shortage of Grizzly Bear-related music: Dan Rossen's recently resuscitated Department of Eagles made a pretty great record last year, Chris Taylor's done some stellar production work with Dirty Projectors and Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, and the band proper have lined up onstage collaborations with high-minded sorts like Nico Muhly and the Brooklyn Philharmonic. In Veckatimest, one sees the fruit of that variegated labor as well; between records, these dudes have been busy getting better at all the things they do, and as it turns out, Veckatimest manages to do Yellow House at least a few better on nearly every metric.

      First, the songs. By now, many of you should be familiar with the stunning bounce of "Two Weeks", the skyward swoon of teen creeper "Cheerleader", and the surefooted shuffle of "While You Wait for the Others". (In fact, I'm painfully aware you may just be intimately familiar with the whole damn thing. If that's you, listen good: that windtunnel 128k leak you nabbed that fateful night back in March? That is not Veckatimest. Get thee to a buying place.) Highlights, all, but there's more where that came from. The fluttering opener "Southern Point" takes off and circles back like a flock of birds, as inviting as Yellow House's "Easier" and a whole lot more to the point. The Rossen-sung "All We Ask" does the Rossen thing, starting soft and slow before exploding around the halfway mark, but it does it as well as or better than anything we've heard from him before. The record's final stretch, from "While You Wait" through the head-swimmer "I Live With You" to the masterful, muted "Foreground" closes Veckatimest on three very strong notes.

      But this is Grizzly Bear, and despite an increased confidence in their pop sensibilities and an overall strengthening of melodies, they're still meanderers at heart. Highlights abound, but Veckatimest does sound as though it was conceived as a whole piece, and one must consider both the overall structure and the connective tissue between the abundant highlights to judge it a success. Save "Cheerleader" and the lilting "Ready, Able", the stretch between "Fine for Now" and "While You Wait" wanders a bit; certain moments, like Rossen's "swim around like two dories" line and the wispy, wheezing "About Face", hit harder than others. But you'll be looking for a while to find anybody who thinks the center of Veckatimest is as strong as the stuff surrounding it.

      Beyond irking folks predisposed to slagging off intricate and, yeah, "sophisticated" music like this-- you stay punk, I'mma stay fascinated-- this trip down yonder to the minor key will doubtless be the big complaint about Veckatimest. But really, couldn't we say the same about Yellow House? I mean, there's some jam in between "Knife" and "On a Neck, On a Spit", but there's an awful lot of wide-open spaces and deliberate left turns in there, too. Yellow House was not a record defined so much by its two or three big numbers as it was by the slightly haunting impression it left when you played it front to back; it sounded deconstructed, whereas Veckatimest feels built brick-by-brick. As I mentioned, Veckatimest handily beats Yellow House in the bangers department, and while you're not gonna hear "Two Weeks" on any radio station that isn't already playing Ted Leo, there is something prim and proper about the record. Yet the pop moments on Veckatimest feel even bigger after the slight deviation at its core; surrounded by a few sour notes and sidesteps, "Cheerleader" and "Ready, Able" becomes that much stronger, and even the less effective numbers ("Hold Still", "Fine for Now") seem only to cower a smidge as a result of the staggering heights they're placed next to. Out of context, they're every bit as good as the more sinewy stuff that wove Yellow House together.

      I walked into Grizzly Bear's much-lauded set at the church down at SXSW this year a skeptic and came out a convert; I knew what a powerful live band they could be, having seen 'em twice before, but my fear about flatlining and my initial (and incorrect) impressions based on the Veckatimest leak had me convinced I'd get my "Knife" and my "Two Weeks" and then perhaps a very welcome nap. What I got instead was as great a testament to band democracy as I've seen onstage; these new tunes require a terrific amount of concentration and skill to pull off in that setting, and any band whose sprightliest number ("On a Neck", still) sounds like half a ragtime had to work awfully hard to win me over after I'd spent the prior eight hours replacing beer-sweat with more beer. Yeah, Veckatimest sounds worked-over, but in the best of ways; carefully embellished, stripped bare when applicable, full of the joy of sounds colliding with other sounds. Grizzly Bear was once Ed Droste's band, but no longer; it's a family affair, and only four guys so completely serious about music-making could come together to make an album this labor-intensive sound so airy, so natural.

      I get it; Grizzly Bear can come across to some as boring. Lord knows I could go my whole life never reading another Ed Droste Tweet about pho or seeing Chris Taylor use a neti pot. But this little microcosm of imperfection indie rock's been working through lately could use a foil like Veckatimest, a record that, in searching for perfection through meticulousness, feels beautifully flawed and gloriously off-kilter without either side serving as the entire narrative. Really, in a world far too concerned with backstories and far too lacking in good old dedication to craft, Grizzly Bear's just about as boring as they come: four guys who very quietly set out to make a fantastic record. And so they did.

      Paul Thompson, May 26, 2009
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