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Posted on July 9th, 2009 (12:51 pm) by Bradley Hartsell

On the surface, Grizzly Bear’s 2006 breakthrough, Yellow House, could be mistaken for a two song album with lots of sleep-inducing filler. The standout track from that record, “Knife,” and album closer, “Colorado”, steal the show and boast more accessibility than all of the other tracks combined. However, given a few careful listens, a stunning and cohesive tour de force of chamber-folk reveals itself. By delaying hasty judgment, “Lullaby” becomes just as vital to the quality of the album as “Knife.” Its groggy intro, which probably turned off the band's detractors immediately, serves as a prelude to the song as it begins to “wake up” and finally hits its full stride; it’s a subtle touch that’s difficult to appreciate on the first or second listen. This apparent opacity is typical of the band's sound. Notice that shady corner at the bottom of Yellow House’s cover? That’s where a lot of the album's most beautiful moments have been swept. And to those who lack the will or patience to explore those corners, the album could understandably seem a bit dull.

Now, while Grizzly Bear don’t seem like the kind of guys to pay a whole lot of mind to reviews, on their new LP, titled Veckatimest, the band seems more cognizant of exposing their hidden moments of accessibility to the light. Kicking off the new album,“Southern Point”certainly suggests that a different Grizzly Bear has emerged. It’s punchy, and doesn’t sound as densely layered as most of the band's past work. The results are solid, but as far as openers go, the track doesn’t feel completely smoothed out. Grizzly Bear step out in full, however, on “Two Weeks.” The descending jabs at the piano, the luscious harmony, and an angelic chorus make “Two Weeks” a fitting successor to “Knife”, albeit with a contrasting style. Grizzly Bear regain their rich, textured sound, but do it with a sunnier glow than in the past. Now, this isn’t exactly Surfing with the Beach Boys, but if you know Grizzly Bear, you know this is brighter territory than they’ve previously explored.

The best moments on Yellow House can be attributed to the band's penchant for preludes of bleary-eyed folk, which slowly build up into dense flurries of instrumentation and sonic exploration. Instrumentally, Grizzly Bear don’t sound too different here than on their previous albums. Intricately picked/strummed guitars create the backbone, while piano, strings and the group's trademark vocal harmonies fill up their chamber palette. Grizzly Bear appear totally in control of the music, even at its densest moments consistently maintaining the wall of sound that has helped define them.

The biggest leap in the band's sound is found in the arrangement of the old instruments. They’ve toned down the scale of the sound, confined it to a closer space and as a result, augmented the effect of melody. The music is as textured as ever, but on Veckatimest, the instruments cater to the melody’s requirements. In the past, the arrangements seemed to dictate the vocals, resulting in a lack of immediacy or catchiness. So, for Veckatimest to feature strings just as vibrant, harmonies just as sweet, and a sonic palette as brimming with new sounds, all while adding a stronger melodic sense - it is simply phenomenal. Grizzly Bear clearly set out to craft a pop album without sacrificing their unique style of instrumentation, and the results are roundly stunning.

Grizzly Bear certainly know how to close an album. Not to be outdone by the vivid beauty of “Colorodo” on Yellow House, “Foreground” brings a satisfying sense of closure to the new record. The song's delicately piano driven and wispy atmosphere is supplemented by a choir of lovely feminine voices that help tie the bow on this grand piece of music.

Once you get beyond the good-not-great opener, Veckatimest is sterling all the way through. It represents an improvement on everything that the band accomplished on Yellow House. That is no slight to their previous album, but rather a testament to how overwhelmingly good Veckatimest truly is. The band's ability to strike such a delicate balance between accessibility and experimentation represents album craftsmanship at its best. Every note is arranged with purpose, and the group makes the most out of every mood and texture they create. In the end, Veckatimest is not only the strongest work of the group's career, but one of the best albums of the year.

Track List
1. Southern Point (5:03)
2. Two Weeks (4:03)
3. All We Ask (5:22)
4. Fine For Now (5:31)
5. Cheerleader (4:55)
6. Dory (4:26)
7. Ready, Able (4:17)
8. About Face (3:22)
9. Hold Still (2:25)
10. While You Wait For The Others (4:30)
11. I Live With You (4:58)
12. Foreground (3:35)

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