First Look: Grizzly Bear – “Veckatimest”

Grizzly Bear - VeckatimestYou may have noticed that I haven’t made so much as a hyperbolic whimper about Grizzly Bear‘s Veckatimest since its recent leak. In part, I’ve wanted to be sensitive to co-lead singer Ed Droste, who’s been a good friend (and gourmand) to this blog, but more importantly because the band’s third album is one that requires serious time and attention before an inevitable gushing review calling it their best yet, a great leap forward, the record indie rock has been waiting for, etc. Because, simply, it is.

Veckatimest is a more ambitious, athletic record than their craggy 2006 breakthrough, Yellow House, itself an album of crisp songcraft and wild, unexpected arrangements. At the forefront of Veckatimest‘s fresh energy is Chris Bear’s detailed percussion, which became a hugely prominent element of the band’s live shows post-Yellow House and figures largely across the board here, giving the songs a drive and agility hitherto unheard in the band’s studio work.

But let’s step back for a moment. Grizzly Bear is a Brooklyn indie folk act fronted by the Lennon/McCartney pairing of songwriters Ed Droste and Dan Rossen, who joined the band after Ed’s mostly solo debut under the moniker with Horn of Plenty; in 2006, they released their deservedly acclaimed sophomore album, Yellow House, and saw themselves go from playing at 260-person capacity Spaceland to opening for Radiohead and co-headlining with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the span of a year. It was the kind of rapid rise that we’ve seen ruin so many bands in the last few years, but if Veckatimest is any indication, Grizzly Bear has come away unscathed and in fact, forged stronger by the young-eating crucible of the hipster spotlight. Yellow House was, in short, an album of evocative, dangerous folk, music with the mystique of old-time blues and the electric fury of (a much mellower) Led Zeppelin. Veckatimest takes these sounds and expands on them, drawing deeper on a brighter ’70s sound (“Southern Point,” a Crosby, Stills & Nash acid flashback, is the best example) and the interstellar theatrics of Dan’s Department of Eagles side-project, among other new directions.

The album’s best track is “Ready, Able,” a particularly high-BPM song that grinds out grimy, palm-muted chords as Droste’s voice flutters delicately above the fray, until the electric guitar gives way, Chris Bear switches from 4/4 tom-tom-tapping to waltz-time cymbal crashes and the song soars into something transcendent. And that’s before the bridge’s fire-breathing lead guitar.

In the wake of Merriweather Post Pavillion’s unrepentant axelessness, Grizzly Bear deserve a lot of credit – and maybe even an engraved plaque from rockist preservationists – for making guitars sound cool again. The scorching distorted crunching of Yellow House remains intact, but it’s joined by chords that shimmer and sway like palm trees in a desert mirage and the Star Wars-via-Van Halen lightsaber swipes of “Two Weeks.” Meanwhile, the impressionistic vocal mixtures that colored Yellow House are even better here. On “Cheerleader,” for instance, the album’s first MP3 release (but not the first single? Album pre-release promotion is so awkward these days), Ed sings a haunting bit of melody as a counterpoint vocal (a distorted Dan, it seems) ghosts along under him and a multi-tracked female voice (Beach House’s Victoria Legrand) adds a dissonant sheen.

The result of all this is a rich rock tapestry both utterly fresh and oddly reminiscent, at least in approach, of former tourmates Radiohead – a band that’s long used the studio to push a traditional rock foundation past its ordinary boundaries. The similarities are most obvious on “Foreground,” the album’s last track and the only one to rely on piano as its main instrument. As he does through much of the album, Droste sings in ambiguous addresses as a piano arpeggiates hypnotically a la OK Computer b-side “How I Made My Millions”; like Thom Yorke’s own reflecting pool lyrics, you can see what you want in the lyrical depths. The end of love? Existential detachment? Four walls and adobe slabs? Despite the band’s liberal arts-leaning fanbase, close reading might be a futile exercise here. Veckatimest is not an album easily subjected to labels – or competitors. Welcome to the canon, gentleman.

(Veckatimest is out May 26 on Warp)

Grizzly Bear – “Cheerleader”: mp3

Previously: Rawkblog Exclusive: Ed Droste’s Top 5 Recipes Of 2008 | All Grizzly Bear Posts


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