Styles: grad-school, orchestral – even when an orchestra isn’t involved – rock with a baroque quality no one can seem to pin down
Others: Department Of Eagles, Animal Collective, Quinn Walker ... Steely Dan?
Wow. I predicted back in December that Grizzly Bear’s upcoming record would be one of the best of the year. After hearing Veckatimest, I felt I had made a mistake, but NOOOOO!!! Turns out I was underselling it a bit, apparently, as GUSH-loads of laudatory quotes have spread over the web like so much love paste, starstruck reviewers throwing out near-perfect ratings like confetti at a wedding.
And here I am, once again: The Asshole. The guy compelled to point out the requisite alternative: Veckatimest is a slightly above-average album, and THAT is IT. I wouldn’t make such an outlandish claim without having listened to said record dozens-upon-dozens of times, mind you; if I couldn’t point out reasons for my crusty rating slapped up-top, I’d be just another web clone writing reviews based on the idea of a fantastic, A+ Grizzly Bear album.
And so I offer you a track-by-track analysis of THE BEST ROCK ALBUM EVER RECORDED EVER-EVER-EVER-EVER (since Merriweather Post Pavillion) to prove to you just how wrong the media moguls are:
- “Southern Point” – Who the fuck slotted this at numero uno? Bad idea. This wacky acoustic number makes absolutely no impression and spends a grueling five minutes doing so. I know, it’s uptempo and the kidzzz might like it, but c’mon; this is Grizz lite.
- “Two Weeks” – Ahhhhhh YEAH, the alpha track. With a tune as healthy as “Two Weeks” hitting you hard in the chest, it’s easy to let Veckatimest seduce you. Gorgeous piano comping, swooping bass-tom combos, an AC-ish loop on the chorus, and a lovely verse all serve to make this the tune we all imagined could happen when we heard the Friend EP. Well done, good chaps. Might I have another?
- “All We Ask” – I had such high hopes for this song when I heard its weeping intro, a short guitar scale a lot like the progressions you heard on the Department Of Eagles record. But what “All We Ask” really reveals is how aimless Grizzly Bear get when their tunes don’t come together as instinctively as, say, “Two Weeks” or “About Face.” A withdrawn verse turns into a chorus that’s just a bit sour, the whole arrangement plodding seemingly because there’s little else that can be done. A nice doo-wop section with hand-claps bookends the intro nicely, but “All We Ask” is too aimless for non-filler designation.
- “Fine For Now” – Another cool intro and more nice chords, but a lack of cohesiveness remains. This is not a good song; to me, it sounds like three ideas smooshed together, like three paragraphs linked together without any transitions to ease the passage for the reader. Plus, I swear they’re saying “fartering.” I know, I know -- it’s “faltering.”
- “Cheerleader” – I just don’t see how dippy songs like this made it past the drawing-board stage. More awkward, forced transitions, more illogical leaps from segment to segment. Their voices are lovely, pastoral like a church choir, but where is it all leading? I honestly can’t say...
- “Dory” – Did I mention these four craft exultant song intros? “Dory” packs enough intro intrigue to keep the listener infinitely interested, then drops the ball like my infant daughter when I toss her the pigskin. And like several of the preceding tracks, it’s slowwwww and at times a burden to slog through.
- “Ready, Able” – This tune trumps the preceding tracks because it assembles differing pieces together successfully. Haphazardly, but successfully. That it contains a shimmering organ line straight out of a Blood, Sweat & Tears record is only extra sugar topping off an already sweet shack. Really nothing more to comment on; solid execution, boys.
- “About Face” – And here it is: The Other alpha track, a song so bright and hopeful it has writers dumbfounded, and for good reason. Like “Winters Love” from Sung Tongs, it stands out so completely from the rest of Veckatimest that one almost begins to associate it with the album in general. The second you hear its ascending guitar line coupled with the wonderful “clack”-heavy percussion you can remember nothing else -- such inspirational melodies and rhythms are why Grizzly Bear are going places, and good for them.
- “Hold Still” – Ugh. Filler like this makes me wish indie rockers were more into between-song skits.
- “While You Wait for the Others” – Maybe it just wasn’t Grizzly Bear’s time to make their best record. “While You Wait for the Others” is proof, because it should totally and completely knock its arrangement out of the park, and doesn’t. The verse and chorus actually fit together, the guitar is obnoxious but necessary, everything sounds in tune, and the ending bashes the point home. So why doesn’t this Hit like it should? Why isn’t it The Real Deal? It just isn’t, kids. Sorry.
- “I Live With You” – More of the same rudderless jive. This isn’t a jigsaw puzzle, this is a giant ball of clay some kid mushed together with eight different colors. My mom, of all people, listening from the kitchen, remarked that “this might be the longest song I’ve ever heard.” I disagree -- that nod goes to anything by Belle & Sebastian -- but the bombastic closing flourish isn’t enough to save this clunker from filler-plus status.
- “Foreground” – A nice outtro and one of the better tunes on Veckatimest because it doesn’t sound like it could have been delivered any other way. If only more of them sounded so natural.
And there you have it, a summation of Veckatimest and its myriad problems. To me, the distinct lack of greatness, save two songs, is more a problem of experience than anything else. Grizzly Bear obviously took pains to make this an album they’ll be remembered by. Thing is, they shouldn’t be feeling the major-league pinch so early in their career, and the result is a piece of art that had too much pressure ascribed to it, that found its creators trying too hard to make a masterpiece when they could have followed a more natural progression.
Not to mention that band democracy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I’m glad Grizzly Bear have decided to write their songs all-together-now(!), but, from the sound of it, that might be one of the things holding them back. In a group-think scenario, ideas often become watered down, burdened by the fact that four different personalities have to approve of them. I’m not saying Veckatimest suffered from the too-many-cooks syndrome (I wasn’t present for the sessions), but a lot of its dishes definitely have the feel of being prepared by four different chefs in four different kitchens.
1. Southern Point
2. Two Weeks
3. All We Ask
4. Fine For Now
7. Ready, Able
8. About Face
9. Hold Still
10. While You Wait For the Others
11. I Live With You