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What I’m listening to this week: Grizzly Bear

September 5, 2009

Veckatimest – 2009

In preparing for this review, I realized something pretty quickly.  Veckatimest is not the type of album that you can put in the car and expect to get the full impression.  Grizzly Bear is the type of band that relies on plenty of nuance and subtlety to keep pace with their bigger aspirations, and Veckatimest is best appreciated with full attention, perhaps with a good set of earbuds.  Also, it takes several listens for the songs to truly expand themselves into digestible pieces (and not surprising, considering that most of the tracks are over 4 minutes in length and several are over 5).  From this introduction, it may seem that Veckatimest is a heavy-handed art album…it’s not.  It’s not in the least pretentious; it’s a musically complex mix of experimental indie-rock, experimental in a gentle, genre-blending sense (if there is such a thing), and each track is structured quite carefully.

Veckatimest begins with “Southern Point”, which plainly shows the drive of the band from the outset.  It sounds like early folk-psychedelia, the prototypical ’70s “golden” intonation, meets experimental jazz.  “Southern Point” also features impressively layered harmonies and a truly intricate compositional style typical of the rest of the album.  The second track, “Two Weeks”, hits indie pop/rock points, but inspires that hopeful, yearning quality without relying on cheese; the simple keyboard melody and delicately upbeat vocals in the chorus are heartfelt and honest, not to mention musically sophisticated.  “All We Ask” seems intensely personal, beginning with elegant finger-picked guitar and low-key vocals, before growing into a Beatles-esque string section with splashy drumming and choral background vocals.  It finishes out incorporating hand claps behind a repetitive bittersweet lyric.

“Fine For Now” maintains some of the musical fragility from “All We Ask”, but combines that with Brit-pop influenced sparkly guitars and then moody strumming in the bridges.  “Fine For Now” might be the most experimental song on the album, especially the vocal mastering, and it also feels like a suite because it changes structures so many times.  Also in the experimental tract is “Hold Still”, which probably does more genre bending than any song on the album, thanks to the distorted resonance of the plucked guitar strings, and near the end of the album is “I Live With You”, which dips back into the psychedelic aspects of the band and expands them a lot further.  “While You Wait For The Others” borrows some of “Southern Point”‘s jazz character before blossoming in the chorus into an upbeat Arcade Fire-like indie melody, then ending on a-capella vocalizations.

Speaking of the Arcade Fire, several parts of songs on Veckatimest might remind you of other bands (some that aren’t as good as Grizzly Bear and some that are arguably better).  Of those, “Cheerleader”, leaning on the side of indie-pop, specifically reminds me of My Morning Jacket adorned with a choir.  “Dory” sounds a tiny bit like Radiohead adorned with an orchestra (and several more other-worldly vocalists) while it provides one of the album’s more intimate and lovely moments, along with “Foreground”, Veckatimest’s closer.  Even though you can detect shades of these other bands in Veckatimest, that in no way implies that those songs are mere imitations.  On the contrary, in the hands of Grizzly Bear, knowingly or not, interesting aspects of some of the best bands around today come together into something resourceful and inventive. 

Veckatimest is an album that is worth the money (although I was lucky enough to get a copy from a nice co-worker, woo hoo!) because it’s not only original, it challenges you if that’s something you’re looking for.  When a band can challenge you by intriguing you, it’s something worth looking into and that’s ultimately what will keep you listening to Veckatimest again and again.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. J Rod permalink
    September 25, 2009 1:49 pm

    I’m glad you checked this out…I got an earlier Grizzly Bear album and ep maybe a year or two ago. I didn’t put either on repeat to listen the whole way through over and over, but a few songs really stuck out (Alligator, Knife, Little Brother), enough to keep them on my radar unitl Veckatimest was released. I think this one really works from start to finish. Excellent review, and your last paragraph nicely sums up how I feel about this band!

  2. September 25, 2009 2:32 pm

    Nice, excellent info. Thanks J Rod!

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