Weekend Listening: Veckatimest by Grizzly Bear
Album: Veckatimist by Grizzly Bear
Released: May 26, 2009 by Warp Records
Recommended if you like: dark fairytales, musical space to think, moody chamber pop
Notable tracks: “Two Weeks,” “I Live With You,” “Fine for Now,” “Cheerleader”
A few years ago indie pop seemed glutted with dudes new to the manicured rugged. Men, wanting to be traditionally masculine but also somewhat refined, came up with an updated version of an American Boy haircut – short on the sides and back, little longer above the crown, product applied, little schwoop up in the front. Holdover plaid from their grungy youth became fitted, without rips, not tucked in but snug across the chest. Jeans, but dark and skinny. Boots, but unscuffed leather. The right kind of beard is still essential to this look, a fully thick, preferably dark, soft mane of hair perfumed and massaged with argan oil on the reg. If you are one the unlucky members of the XY whose crop comes up patchy, just grow a twirly steampunk ‘stache and it’s fine, but really the beard is the tops.
Beards and bears. I swear to Christ, for a couple of years around 2010 there were a thousand fucking bands with “bear” in the name or a line-up of beards doing all the work. And it’s not that I thought they were terrible, it’s just that I had Fleet Foxes and was full up on my animal/beard quota.
Then I heard “Two Weeks” played on a podcast while driving my daughter to the playground. Then I pit-stopped at the shitty FYE or whatever was in the Podunk town I was living in had and I bought the miracle that was that album being in that store. Then I listened to it 30 times in a row while she nodded off to the beauty in those harmonies, and we haven’t stopped listening since.
I can’t recall another time when hearing one track moved me to actually buy the album unheard, but it would make sense that the gorgeous “Two Weeks” could elicit that kind of reaction. The first track released, “Two Weeks” obviously stands as the most accessible, poppiest offering the album has. A simple, higher-octave piano riff opens, a three-chord repetition plays with a sweetly aggressive intensity before any other sound and anchors this track into that mood. Ed Droste’s dreamy vocals, that high piano, the backing chorus including Victoria Legrand from Beach House, could sum up into something hazy and nice, but the pacing of the song counteracts the twee potential even when we are left alone with the piano.
In some ways, that fullness disconnects this track from the rest of the work. Radio ready as it is, though, the interplay between a whimsical element and a heavy one are showcased here, that that thread, along with the idea of creating musical space, holds this album together. Songs like “Two Weeks,” “Southern Point,” and the chorus of “While You Wait for the Others” stand apart from the majority of the album in how complete the sound; for the most part, this is an album of carefully created space, room to dream, to anticipate, and nowhere do I love it more than “I Live With You.”
Even with backing strings from the guesting Acme String Quartet, even with multiple voices, the spaces in this track are its beauty. Shimmery keyboards play an ethereal moment, but the song quickly fades out, Daniel Rossen’s voice hanging over minimal guitar and faint strings, before this explosion, drums and guitar and strings joining in an insistent throb barely anticipated but wholly welcome. Brief, though, we are quickly stripped down to the laziest guitar, Rossen crooning “don’t make me beg” as we all are, in that moment, hoping for another release. Giving listeners a taste but pulling back, showing us what we want but stopping, manipulates us into a state of premonition obviously known to the band, who keep up a faint rendition of that drone as a tease inside those quiet pockets before the sound opens up at the end, lets loose with those fairytale trills and swelling throb before ending, just stopping, leaving us breathless. The following, and last, track of the album, “Foreground,” finishes out that release with gentle piano and subdued vocals, as if the band is acknowledging our collective gasp from “I Live With You.”
Through a track like “I Live With You,” the band’s attention to the craft is evident. That is a scripted listening response, something each note works toward, and it lands beautifully. Still, though, somehow Veckatimest manages to feel undone and wandering, and in the gap between perfection and laxity comes this gorgeous record.