The Brooklyn group's finest work yet...
Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest


Recorded in relative isolation in Cape Cod, the third album from Brooklyn quartet Grizzly Bear is one of the most organic-sounding releases you’ll hear in 2009. Never hurried, always open to development and discussion, the group’s songwriting approach here has resulted in an end product that can only be categorised as one of the year’s best to date.

The group welcomes the listener with the gentle shuffle of ‘Southern Point’, setting a tone for all that will follow: subdued percussion riding low in the mix beneath perfect-of-pitch harmonies and entwined vocals that are so well wrapped that identifying a single individual in the mix is near impossible. And, really, that’s the point: this is the first truly united-front Grizzly Bear LP, a natural evolution from the acclaimed ‘Yellow House’ of 2006, and the first to feature all four members operating at the same level. Nobody leads, nobody follows; all stride onwards in absolute synchronicity.

This realisation of the group’s power when focused as a foursome manifests itself in a manner most joyous, with the feel of this record one that fills the listener with pleasure, truly stirring one’s spirit. ‘Two Weeks’ (watch its video HERE) captures this overall vibe in just four minutes – lyrically it might appear to flirt with melancholy, but texturally it’s such a delightfully uplifting listen that the message is lost in the warmth emanating from the swirling, sloshing instrumentation.

Given the successes of Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver in the UK lately, and the semi-folk feel of ‘Veckatimest’ – named after a small, uninhabited island near where the band recorded – it’s tempting to see Grizzly Bear attracting similar ears to their wares, especially after a high-profile appearance on Later With Jools Holland; but there’s a greater depth to this band, to this record, than said potential peers. If associations aid Grizzly Bear’s entrance into a new commercial league, then that’s great, but the music here has more in common with the expansive, experimental shades of Radiohead and Animal Collective than any contemporary folk act.

This richness has much to do with the group’s in-studio dynamic. With bassist Chris Taylor also acting as producer, Grizzly Bear have been able to explore their own sound without external pressures or enforced borders; nobody has been clocking off at ten, leaving the band unable to capture the sounds circling in their minds. But that the results are so magical is testament to the players’ ability to withdraw as much as they indulge – there’s nothing over-the-top about proceedings, every second as perfectly placed as can be imagined. Economising is every bit as important as the allowance of extravagances.

Simplifying standout moments to tracks is a tough procedure, as ‘Veckatimest’ truly is best appreciated as a single body of work, so lovingly has it been stitched together, sequenced in a way that encourages the attentions to remain involved from beginning to end. But there’s no denying that ‘Fine For Now’ acts as something of a centrepiece, two or three songs playing out at once and climaxing in an explosion of colour; ‘Ready, Able’ could have even the coldest heart swooning to its titillating guitar chords and ethereal atmospherics; and ‘Foreground’, as album closer, is perhaps the most elegant song this band has yet committed to tape. Its simple beauty is impossible to accurately convey with critique words.

‘Veckatimest’ is not only the highest water mark in its makers’ careers to date, but also perhaps the finest record of its kind released so far this year – and that’s a weak, non-committal perhaps, placed there out of habit above anything else. Because, frankly, this record is so fascinatingly complete it’s frightening. The bar is set, and it’ll take something truly unprecedented to match it over the next six months.

9/10

- - -

Read our recent interview with Grizzly Bear HERE.

-

Follow Clash: