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White Noise: Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

You don't always have to make something blindingly original to create great music. Some bands recently like Arcade Fire have shown that there's still life in the seemingly staid genre of indie rock, and Grizzly Bear go some way to consolidating this proof; this album is lush and pretty, and in equal parts brilliant and frustrating.

In their formative albums Grizzly Bear showed off the various aspects that could be expected in their music, and all of those are present here. The perfect vocal harmonies, richly textured instrumentals and generally an uplifting and relaxed tone permeates their music, and for the most part these tried and tested features make for a satisfying product. Opener Southern Point is a taut and structurally complex journey with propulsive guitars and a stunning drive that opens out into a broad and rich soundscape. Early highlight and second cut Two Weeks is a genuine summer anthem, a simple piano line (which curiously bears more than a passing resemblance to a slowed down version of the backing in Dre and Snoop's Still D.R.E) swells with gorgeous harmonies and a melancholic vocal melody; it's sharp, well composed and positively infectious.

When Grizzly Bear are assured and know what they're doing, the tracks really do shine. Cheerleader haunts the listener with a throbbing bassline; Ready, Able is a tense composition that threatens to blossom into a lush soundscape so many times that when it finally does, the payoff is immense. Yet too often on this record the band seem to lose their way. Indeed, when listened to in one go, many of the tracks on the album are indistinguishable from others unless you pay close attention. All We Ask crawls along for 5 minutes with a predictable payoff, Dory transitions so many times into different melodies that it completely gets lost, and the crashing crescendo of I Live With You just sounds kind of off; the normally delicate instrumentation all coming down at once in a very heavy-handed manner.

After a long listen, I'm just left wondering if they couldn't deviate more whole-heartedly from the formula that they've established; previous album Yellow House showcased a great deal more variation than this album. Granted this is a richer and more fully-formed offering, but slick production values can't hold as much weight as good songwriting. It's a shame that some of these tracks can get murky and bothersome, because there's some really great stuff here. While You Wait For The Others is very possibly the best track the band have ever written (rivalling Colorado and Knife from their last LP); an expertly sparse and minimal composition with great harmonies and the most interesting and poetic lyrics that the group have come out with. Meanwhile closer Foreground is a piano-based composition of rare beauty. Melancholy and exquisitely textured, it really doesn't go on long enough. And I don't mean that like 'I could listen to it forever because it's so good'; I genuinely think the song is cut somewhat short. I would've preferred for the last song to take the form of a long exhale after the whole, and it could really have been taken further. But maybe that's just me, anyway. I do still love the track.

Veckatimest is a fantastically accomplished album in terms of intelligent use of melody and lushly textured tracks, but it's a shame that they couldn't keep up the consistency by making each song audibly unique from the rest. Yet Grizzly Bear are still one of the most brilliant and satisfying indie rock outfits around at the moment, so let's hope they can get the balance right next time.


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