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Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

on May 27, 2009, 9:35am
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It’s often difficult to adequately describe the sound that Brooklyn’s Grizzly Bear creates. “Spacious” would be an understatement and an overstatement simultaneously. There’s so much going on, but not in an overwhelming sense. You can hear a pin drop amidst the hazy atmospheres that fill a Grizzly Bear album.  It’s the sort of foggy warmth you didn’t think existed in nature, but somehow, through the magic of production and the work of a band that knows exactly what sound they want, there it is. Grizzly Bear is one of those rare groups that can simply transport you from the confines of your listening space, to a remote locale, rich with grandiose arrangements and echo-y harmonies.

Veckatimest lets you revisit that place once again. Named after a 16-acre island off the coast of Massachusetts, the group’s third album and follow-up to 2006’s stunning Yellow House, will transport listeners to an island that’s unfamiliar yet cozy. Small enough to fully explore, but large enough so as not to feel constrained, the place is pretty magnificent. You can dance around its beaches, swim in its temperate waters, and sprawl out in its fuzzy meadows all day. And it’s all thanks to a few dudes from Brooklyn with a keen attention to detail. Daniel Rossen, Ed Droste, and Chris Taylor’s vocal harmonies sound like a warm mug of tea that never runs dry. Chris Bear’s percussion work thumps and shimmers, but never smacks. But what would all of this be without the explosive orchestral arrangements that latch on to each song’s core, whipping them into intensity? The sounds are as gentle as they are ferocious.

The music is calming, but one shouldn’t expect sheer tranquility. There’s obviously a great deal of it, but it’s not all the guys have in store. One moment you’ll be sung a lullaby and the next an explosion of strings, woodwinds, and brass will jostle you. Textures aplenty, there’s more than enough to find in the record’s 52 minutes. Though Grizzly Bear is obviously responsible for most of this, much credit can also be given to composer Nico Muhly, whom the band worked with to help craft their sonic visions. All of this together, presents listeners with a group of songs that are bursting with sound, yet economical in their instrumental distribution.

The best example of just what the guys are capable of would probably be “Ready, Able”, one of the record’s numerous standouts. Sure, “Two Weeks” showcases the band’s ability to craft catchy folk pop gems (do we have a new “The Knife” on our hands?), but I’ve always been more attracted to the way in which Grizzly Bear utilizes negative space; the breathtaking way in which the silence and open air adds to the actual sounds produced. Quiet, evenly distanced, palm muted electric strums are joined by brief harp swells before steamy vocals dance with one another and electric guitars slam. Then things get experimental and effects start to manipulate the vocals. The wah-wahed out vocals harmonize and perplex, and all you want to do is just hear the song again. The track, among the 11 others, will have you nodding, closing your eyes, and getting lost in a soundscape only Grizzly Bear is capable of producing.

The boys never closed the door to Yellow House, and fragments of the stunning achievement are audible in Veckatimest. But there is certainly some forward progression here. More along the lines of last year’s Department of Eagles release, In Ear Park, the songs are more focused and determined. This is pop music at its finest. It was easy to get a bit disoriented listening to Yellow House, which was perhaps too spacious for some. But here, in its grandiosity, Grizzly Bear has found a perfect balance and created an album well worth investing in.

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