US - New York - Full Moon 156 - 06/07/09
When I was a kid I used to love drawing in pencil. I would craft elaborate and detailed scenes that looked pretty good to my critical juvenile eye, but
when I was finished I always felt that there was something missing - colour. So, I would crack open the coloured pens and pencils and start filling in the
blanks. But then there would always be a point at which I would regret colouring in and want to go back to my original pencil sketch, perfect in its own way
and fecund with possibility.
In their follow-up to Yellow House, my favourite album of 2006, Grizzly Bear have taken their meandering
song-suites to the logical next step, colouring between their masterfully drawn lines. But there are too many moments on Veckatimest when I miss Yellow
House's space and restraint - that sense that the band are making it up as they go along. Veckatimest too often feels laboured, bogged down in baroque
arrangements, to allow all of the songwriting to shine.
Often while listening to Veckatimest I want to hear these songs in progress, stripped of their glossy arrangements to get to the bare bones of the
music. Once you get past the thrill of hearing "Two Weeks" and "While You Wait For The Others" in all their glory after months of YouTube clips, it's closing
track "Foreground" that really entrances. Compared to the rest of the songs, which are richly festooned with multi-tracked vocals, a choir and percussive details,
"Foreground" brings a lump to the throat with its simplicity and sincerity. Like the rest of the album it's beautifully recorded - three-dimensional and breathing
with reverb - but with just a flush of choir at its close. The lonely piano and Ed Droste's incandescent croon are luminous with longing and shadowed with
It's a moment of uncanny restraint on what is an uncommonly generous record. Elsewhere, it feels like the band have tried just a little too hard to fill
all the available space with luxuriant details. Even 'Two Weeks', with its simple and catchy Rhodes riff, has its chorus filled to the brim with Beach House's
Victoria Legrand on backing vocals. On "While You Wait For The Others", perhaps the finest Grizzly Bear song yet, the band get the balance just right, piling
on giddy harmonies and hitting an impossibly spine-tingling high at its climax as Droste's vocal soars in the higher registers.
"Fine For Now" points to a potentially fruitful new direction with its laser-like electric guitar leads at the song's end, which are no doubt transcendent
live. And while opener "Southern Point" occasionally gets bogged down in disorientating effects, it does rock pretty hard for Grizzly Bear with its fuzz bass
and hissing cymbal swells.
Aside from his masterful turn on "While You Wait For The Others", Daniel Rossen fares the worst of the two lead vocalists. "Dory" and "Hold Still" are the
two most disposable cuts, his voice and the melodies sounding fussy, nagging like a guilty conscience. In comparison, Droste's "Ready, Able" and "About Face"
are more restrained and resonant, making a delectable mid-album pairing.
Overall, the album's 52 minutes can become exhausting on repeat listens. There is some superb material here, among the band's best songs, but Veckatimest would have benefitted from some judicious pruning to bring the band's talents into sharper focus and turn what is a very good album into an excellent one.
Copyright © 2009 Tim Clarke