Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest

Jamie Milton 29/05/2009

Rating: 4/5

2009 has created a curse. 2009 has stumbled. The moment one sorry soul muttered the words “album of the year??” on the 1st day of January after hearing Animal Collective's latest album, then arose a standard, a competition for all others to aspire to. Every 'big release' album has been to some extent viewed in regard to how it compares to 'Merriweather Post Pavilion', but no album quite as much as 'Veckatimest'. Perhaps this should come as no surprise: 'Yellow House' was a beautifully layered, sleep-tight, warm album, a very special one indeed. But 'Veckatimest', an album so separate from many musical spheres that it shouldn't be compared so directly, has already seen itself judged instantly on merit of how likely you think it is to get the album of the year crown.
Let's make things clear: album of the year judgements are something that most music fans look on towards from an early stage but for some reason, they're slowly edging into a collective opinion, a sense that there should be a definitive best record, be it for historical purposes or self satisfaction at your own music taste. That shouldn't be the case. In a flash, it puts most listeners of 'Veckatimest' on two sides of the fence. If you didn't think it was the best thing you'd heard all year, you'd begin to almost despise it when that compliment was thrown from side to side towards the Brooklyn four-piece's latest creation.

In reality, 'Veckatimest', like any other album created by human beings, has its strong points and its weak points. Vocal melodies, the ultimate strong point of Rossen and co., are enhanced to a stage in which they begin to guide each song, acting instrumentally instead of lyrically on 'Fine For Now', varying in rhythm, mood, pitch - creating something beautiful. Contrasting to that is this new-found edge, a passionate combination of crashing cymbals and blown-up guitars, climaxing 'I Live With You' and initially drawing you in on opener 'Southern Point', a sporadic, joyous affair enhanced by a stunning orchestral closing.

At times however, the melodies and such border on becoming inaccessible. 'Hold Still' almost seems to interrupt a gathering pace built on the moving, upbeat 'Ready, Able' and the percussion-dominated charmer 'About Face'. Obtuse guitar work seems too immersed in its own enjoyment, shunning out the listener. But maybe Grizzly Bear deserve this kind of indulgence in a prequel to the album highlight, 'While You Wait For The Others'. In regards to the bulk of the record, it remains a simplistic band affair that fashions a summery vibe, culminating in the kind of chorus all songwriters aspire to - a cry of joy if ever there was one. 'Two Weeks' perhaps a similar function. Being the most up-tempo song on the record, it immediately gains attention. Ed Droste's soothing vocals stand out at the start when there's nothing to hear but his voice and the gorgeous, cheery keyboard-line, but it gradually becomes a small part of the song, shadowed in behind beautifully layered guitar parts and Christopher Bear's ubiquitous drum style. 'Southern Point' hones in more are carefully-crafted guitar work, its centrepiece being the sudden change of structure that's met by the cast of a dozen violnis. 'Ready, Able''s explosion of a stirring bout of passion is matching in character.

The slightly less-pacey core of the record shouldn't be seen as a weak spot. Msot should be able to marvel at the breathtaking vocal performance of Rossen in 'Dory', the rich and colourful summit of “Cheerleader', etc. etc. Indeed at times you might feel like you're trudging through the think swampy bulk of the record but take time out of what you're doing and you'll find a whole host of characteristics and little turns in structure, pace, ideas as a whole.

Taking the whole competitive context out of the album puts it in a much better light. Perhaps once the dust settles, 'Veckatimest' can appear just as, if not more affecting and spirited than 'Yellow House'. For now however, music has to wait six months or so before it can fully judge the record in comparison to others. 'Veckatimest' should only be judged as to whether it compares with 'Yellow House'., whether it's the most forward-thinking move of their career to date - and it probably is.