Album Review: Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

It’s been a busy year for me so far, and as a result, my music blogging has regrettably fallen by the wayside.  Planning for and finally getting married, family health problems, home maintenance and various “honey-do” tasks that go along with that, etc.  All this has led up to not only the neglect of writing about new music, but also taking the time to seek out and listen to it.  It also hasn’t helped that, of the small number of albums that I was able to squeeze in over the last six months, not many have really impressed me enough to get back into the swing of blogging.  I have a big backlog now that I am committing myself to slogging through, and not all of it is great.  However, there have been a slew of recent releases that have finally given me that familiar tingly feeling again, and sharing the joy of these records is renewing my spark for listening to and writing about music.

Of the few records of 2009 that I have been able to digest, by far the best is Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest.  Their 2006 effort Yellow House was a great record, but there were moments of that album that felt like a lot of work just to appreciate.  As a result, Yellow House was a difficult but rewarding album that took a very long time to earn the massive praise that I am able to give it now.  Veckatimest, on the other hand, is an immediately listenable, enjoyable, and impressive feat, stuffed full of pop hooks and creative exploration in sound.  Right from the get go with album opener “Southern Point,” Grizzly Bear begin their slightly skewed exploration of pop music.  The acoustic guitar strums are matched by shuffling drums and the occasional exclamatory timpani, and the soaring background vocals bring to mind an AM radio classic with a modern twist.  Up next is “Two Weeks,” one of the standout tracks on the album and evidence of Grizzly Bear’s amazing pop sensibilities.  The bouncy piano stabs oddly recall Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life” (good luck finding anyone else who would draw that comparison!), but the swelling chorus buoyed by ethereal backing vocals is where the song truly comes alive.  Great moments abound on this record, such as the build and eventual synth and guitar dream pop release of “Ready, Able” or the choir vocals of “I Live With You.”  But Grizzly Bear haven’t lost the quirks that made Yellow House such a challenging listen.  “Dory” is an engaging experiment in underwater songwriting, and “Hold Still” is a meandering trip that also recalls some of Yellow House‘s more difficult moments.  In reality, there is so much to hear on this record, and each listen seems to reveal new twists and turns, not unlike Yellow House, but much more easily digestible.

One of the more noticable things about Veckatimest is the trade off between Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen, who share almost equal vocal duties on the album.  It becomes clear that, while Grizzly Bear began as Droste’s band, they have evolved into a more cohesive group, and this has only increased their ability to craft meticulously gorgeous songs.  I realize that I still have a whole pile of albums to sort through, but I’m glad I chose this one as one of my first forays back into new music.  Veckatimest has made me excited about the music of 2009, and I am fully recharged and ready for the rest.  My only fear is that none of the records awaiting my critical ear will be able to top what Grizzly Bear have created with this fine album.  Will this be my top album of 2009?  We shall see.

Grizzly Bear – “Two Weeks”

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