Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

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While it might be tempting to write off Veckatimest as “that album with “Two Weeks” and “While You Wait for the Others” on it,” just as most of you had done calling another critically acclaimed album (Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix) released a day before this one was as “that album with “Lisztomania” and “1901” on it,” I urge you not to do so.

I don’t know what it is exactly, but Veckatimest has a very “album” feel to it, like it were trying to give us some linear narrative, whereas most other albums (especially nowadays) just feel like a tangible collection of songs and nothing more. It is in part to do with the sequencing, the opening 1-2-punch of “Southern Point” and “Two Weeks” is as good as opening 1-2-punches go (rivaling “In the Flowers” + “My Girls” and “Lisztomania” + “1901,” both examples from the same year, to put it under perspective), and when things begin to falter in the middle, centerpiece “Cheerleader” comes along. Then there’s the astonishing climax of “While You Wait for the Others” that does the same thing in the album’s second half, and a nice ballad in “Foreground” to end things off. What I mean is, even though Veckatimest has a few weak moments (which I’ll get to), I don’t mind them because it’s easy to listen to this cover-to-cover in a single sitting, even if I’m particularly drawn to “Two Weeks” or “While You Wait for the Others” if I’m only looking for a quick dose of Grizzly Bear. This is opposed to Yellow House, which essentially died in its second half save for a single “On a Neck, On a Spit.”

To be honest, there’s only one bad moment on the album. “Hold Still” has a tangible guitar line that marches nowhere fast and does so repeatedly, and its placement on the album begs us to compare it immediately to “About Face,” whose guitar line does everything that the one in “Hold Still” does but better. It’s garbage, in other words, but since Grizzly Bear’s members are of a sophisticated ilk, you have to read “garbage” in a French accent. Gar-baage. It’s worse than any of the melody-less moments from Horn of Plenty or Yellow House. I’d say that it should’ve been relegated to rarity status, but not the sort that finds its way as a b-side to a single, because that would’ve soiled the package of either “Two Weeks” or “While You Wait for the Others.”

Meanwhile, I had originally written off “Foreground” — ironically — as background music. Probably because it sounded like the band were trying to recreate “Videotape” with its stripped away nature (Daniel Rossen states, “When I first heard [Ed Droste] do [“Foreground”] with just piano, it was so gorgeous and we fought to keep it as simple as possible so as not to overcomplicate it, since it was already so nice as it was,” which is essentially what Radiohead did with “Videotape” verbatim), but Grizzly Bear lack Thom Yorke’s melodramatic charm. I’ve since taken that back; I’m sure it’s the band’s best ballad, although I’m not sure how much that compliment means, seeing as how they’re not so much into balladry as they are into mid-tempo folk/pop/rock. Also, ”Foreground,” with its faux opening measure and subsequent riff always sounds like it’s going to go into some “Where Is My Mind???” badassery. It never does, but it also does not let me down.

Actually, none of these lyrics really mean anything, something that the band has admitted to when working on their follow-up LP, Shields (Chris Taylor: “There were lyrics in previous albums that seemed to have no meaning whatsoever”). I mean, some of them are catchy enough, sure, but what on earth does the oft-talked about “Would you always / Maybe sometimes / Make it easy? / Take your time” even mean? I’m pretty sure the “You could hope for some substance / For as long as you’d like” line from “While You Wait for the Others” was them knowingly poking fun at all of us. Oh, apparently “Dory” is about the fish but not the fish. Sucks, because “We’ll swim around like two dories,” the only thing worth keeping about the song, had so much more meaning beforehand.

It’s fine though. I’m not here for the lyrics; in the same interview where you can find the Chris Taylor quotation, Daniel Rossen notes that “In the past, we tended to be too off-the-cuff with lyrics; we would let things slide just because we felt like the texture of the song and the arrangement was enough to communicate what we were going for,” and in Veckatimest, they often are. To be honest, “Southern Point” and “Two Weeks” don’t even need lyrics; I’m too busy getting lost in the dizzying array in the rise and fall of the former and the wordless doo-wop harmonies of the latter to really care about something as inconsequential as Grizzly Bear lyrics. Not to mention just what else is happening on “Two Weeks,” with its eighth note stabs (I think ‘stabbing’ is only ever positive in regards to music), the squelchy bass and Christopher Bear’s lyrical drumming while the keyboards are largely playing the same note over and over. I actually think that Christopher Bear’s drumming is the band’s most important asset, not the vocal harmonies that everyone talks about, though to be sure, the bridge on “While You Wait for the Others” might be one of the greatest bridges I’ve ever heard.

That being said, one of the best things about Veckatimest, though, is the band’s ambition, which immediately separates it from their previous Yellow House, a mostly pleasant exercise in cottage laziness. Yellow House had only one song that defied the general atmosphere of the album (“Knife”), while most songs in Veckatimest seek to defy any form of simple classification. We could, I suppose, throw the thing in the umbrella term “folk” (or God forbid, “indie”) but when we’re dealing with the jazzy feel of “Southern Point,” or the 50’s/60’s-throwback of “Two Weeks,” or the steady rock of “Ready, Able,” “About Face” or “While We Wait for the Others,” Veckatimest proves to be a great deal more.

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