It’s been almost three years since Grizzly Bear broke through with their excellent 2006 album, Yellow House, but few bands kept blogs and mags busier during that time. Whether it was releasing an EP with a knockout cover of the Crystals’ “He Hit Me,” playing with Paul Simon, performing unreleased songs on Letterman for the hell of it, or doing ironic covers of teen-pop songs for each other’s birthday, Grizzly Bear were never far from the spotlight. It’s hard to place what kept Grizzly Bear on top without any new musical output and only intermittent touring, but a lot of it probably has to do with the lived-in nature of their songs. While other bands rush to make things sound as futuristic as possible, as much like U2 as possible or as loud as possible, Grizzly Bear are busy crafting sonic landscapes. Their songs don’t recall stylistic forefathers, but rather a dusty attic, a library, a sunny beach, or a campfire near a cabin.
But despite being about as big a band as you can be while being signed to a label known for avant-garde electronic music (Warp), Grizzly Bear still showed the opportunity for growth after Yellow House. After all, it was their first album as a four-piece, and they didn’t even play live together until after its release. Grizzly Bear’s third album, Veckatimest, delivers on all the promise that singles like “Knife” and “On a Neck, on a Spit,” seemed to suggest; Veckatimest is a masterful album, riding a “more is more” philosophy, vocal harmonies by the barrel full, and a rustic song cycle to form one of the year’s best.
Veckatimest, named after an island in Massachusetts, starts inconspicuously with “Southern Point,” a Daniel Rossen-led, subdued slice of jangle pop. Second track, “Two Weeks,” is perhaps Grizzly Bear’s finest moment. It’s the band’s most pure “pop” song, as frontman Ed Droste emotes about a relationship over laid-back, hip-hop-like keys and a plucky bass line. “Two Weeks” showcases Grizzly Bear’s eye to detail; nothing here isn’t highly considered and crafted. Chris Bear’s drums roll and saunter bow-legged underneath Chris Taylor’s harmonies. Droste’s lengthening of the song’s key phrase (“I told you I would stay”) and the addition of Beach House vocalist Victoria Legrand on the chorus make for tiny moments that create on unforgettable one.
Although Grizzly Bear started as a bedroom project by Droste, Veckatimest is clearly an album made by a full band. All four members sing, Rossen and Droste trade lead singer vocals almost to a song (and sometimes within songs), and the music is fleshed-out in ways it wasn’t on Yellow House. The loping “Cheerleader” swaps off between a Droste-led ruminative verse, climaxing repeatedly in a reverb-fueled Rossen chorus. The lilting “Ready, Able” glides along its tender guitar line, piling on layers of dusty strings, glistening organ, and howling backing vocals. Late highlight and early album teaser, “While You Wait for the Others” trades sandy instrumentation in the choruses for church choir backing vocals underneath Rossen’s cracking lead. Veckatimest also removes any remaining shard of the band’s tentativeness; it’s hard to imagine the old Grizzly Bear bringing the hammer down on the ecstatic “I’ll Live With You,” a song with an honest to goodness muscular riff in the coda.
Like nearly every album of the Web 2.0 era, Veckatimest was subject to an early leak and hyperbolic hype. Hype can be a cruel and unforgiving mistress, but Veckatimest surpasses the expectations. It plainly improves Grizzly Bear’s sound, and lends itself well to multiple spins, because each repeated listen reveals another perfectly crafted shard you missed on the last go-round. Sometimes deciding what’s hype and what’s warranted can be hard to discern, but Veckatimest makes those concerns meaningless the second the needle drops.