Grizzly Bear’s breakthrough second album Yellow House is one that I didn’t fully appreciate until after I got Veckatimest this year. Neither of these albums will try to get your attention, they are both full of quiet pauses and seem to even be mixed more quietly than most of the music released today. That makes for some effort on the listener’s part involved in appreciating the understated beauty of a Grizzly Bear album. Perhaps this is why, even after several listens, it took over two years for Yellow House to make its way into the rotation of albums I listen to regularly. So what does Grizzly Bear sound like? Of all of their contemporaries, Fleet Foxes are probably the closest band to compare their sound to. Both bands utilize acoustic guitar in the traditional folk sense, but take the sound a little further out there than what you would expect if you wanted to hear a folk record. Both bands are masters of multi-part harmonies, sometimes even doing this a cappella. Both bands pull off sounding retro without sounding cheesy, which is hard to do. Grizzly Bear is quite a bit more experimental and use more varied instrumentation than Fleet Foxes and have a little more of a produced or polished sound. Adding an echo here and a delay there can do wonders for creating a distinct sound.
Veckatimest opens with “Southern Point” which may be a reference to the island off the coast of Massachusetts that the album is named for. It is not in the same vein as other songs that you would expect to hear from a band like this, but the fuzz bass and lush orchestral music that builds and swells at the two thirds mark bring it back from the brink of being too jazzy. Immediately following is the first single, “Two Weeks”. This song opens with distorted piano and electric guitar before the four part (at least) harmony vocalization. Lead singer Ed Droste lazily sings the lyrics while the rhythm chugs along behind him. This is a prime example of how Grizzly Bear uses the volume dynamic to make the song more powerful. Halfway through the song everything is stripped away and just the tinkling piano is left before the chorus and harmony come back in full force, with even more layers than before. This song is all about the melody and instrumentation. The lyrics to the chorus – and the rest of the song – are very bland and generic, although it doesn’t detract from its quality.
Would you always
Make it easy
Take your time
A few songs later, “Cheerleader” starts with a shuffling staccato rhythm, and in the same fashion as “Two Weeks” different parts, including woodwind instruments and a children’s choir, are added and taken away to create an amazing sonic landscape. I really like the marching band drums and effect on the vocals on this song.
“Ready, Able” is a slow burner that achieves absolute perfection with the last two minutes.
Finally, the best song on the album is “While You Wait for the Others” because of the lyricless vocalization during what I guess would be called the chorus.
“While You Wait for the Others”
Overall, Grizzly Bear have put together a very nice complete package that is worth spending some time with. It’s not something that you would expect to love on the first listen but its never unpleasant. So far, I believe it is my favorite album of the year.
4 1/2 out of 5 stars.
Ultra-recommended!! <3 ;)
Pitchfork.com (apparently my boyfriend since I mention it every week) is doing an awfully ambitious list this week of the top 500 songs from 2000-2009 and both “Two Weeks” and “While You Wait for the Others” were on the list. Here’s to hoping that today’s top 20 has lots of rADIOHEAD and oKKERVIL rIVER.