Veckatimest is being hailed as the best album of the year. There’s a good chance if you’ve already seen a review of the album that line has been carelessly thrown around. Critics, bloggers and even Trent Reznor have been heaping praise on Veckatimest. The hype machine has been roaring along in 2009, the apparent year of the Grizzly Bear. The problem is that if anything will ruin a good thing, it’s hype.
The most common critique I’ve heard of the album is that it’s boring. While I disagree with that assessment, I understand. This is not an album that you can jump straight into. And with all the hype surrounding it, I can understand the disappointment. Grizzly Bear is not a band that specializes in instant gratification. These four are going to make you work for it.
Veckatimest as a whole is not a huge departure from their previous effort, Yellow House. The whole affair is still largely in-house, with multi-instrumentalist Chris Taylor handling multiple instruments and production duties. The lyrics are as vague as ever, and every member of the group still contributes vocals. There are a few new tricks, though. The instrumentation is richer, thanks in part to contributions from modern composer Nico Muhly, the ACME String Quartet and the Brooklyn Youth Choir. “Southern Point” kicks off Veckatimest with a couple of acoustic guitars, slowly building into an explosion of beautiful textures. Daniel Rossen handles the vocal duties on this and gives it his all. The explosions keep coming, each time with additional instrumentation until the last arrives with cymbals beautifully shimmering above it all until dying back down to the guitars.
Now the “problem” with Veckatimest: these guys can write a pop song. After listening to the next track, “Two Weeks,” it’s easy to call it a day. This is the song responsible for the hype. This song sets the bar impossibly high, leaving the rest of the album in its dust. Led by a simple keyboard riff and held together by Bear’s drumming, the vocals are the stars. Ed Droste contributes fantastic lead vocals with the rest of the band and Victoria Legrand giving a new definition to backing vocals. There are not enough words in the English language to adequately convey how gorgeous they truly are. It’s understandable to park here and loop the song endlessly, but I beseech you to press on.
”All We Ask” slows down the pace a bit with a superb sing-along at the tail end. More vocal acrobatics are featured on “Fine for Now,” and the electric guitar rears it head as a precursor of what’s to come. “Cheerleader” is another track in the vein of “Two Weeks,” with Grizzly Bear acting more like a rock band than a chamber group. While not as catchy as “Two Weeks,” it features great vocal interplay between Droste and Rossen and introduces the Brooklyn Youth Choir.
After “Cheerleader” Veckatimest becomes softer, sadder and slower, providing the perfect opportunity for the bored to jump ship. “Dory” and “Ready, Able” pass pleasantly enough, but it’s not until “About Face” that the action picks up for a second.
Is Veckatimest the best album of 2009? Probably not, and anyone willing to make that claim needs to take a step back and realize there are six months left in an already solid year for music. Is it a gorgeous album worth at the very least a listen? I would not hesitate to say yes.