Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Piece it together, then pull it apart

Grizzly Bear
Score: 8

Altogether more complex than its nearest predecessor, Veckatimest pulls Grizzly Bear out of the Yellow House and into a larger setting. New environments can open the body to bombardments of stimuli, and this album feels like a representation of that.

Melancholy has the edge, although the chipper "Two Weeks" --- chortling Rhodes, irrepressible high notes, glorious harmonizing --- is apt to temporarily blind you with cheer and fool the memory banks into believing it carries more weight than a single song. The title confirms the band's continued intimate relationship with place: in this case, an island off the southeastern coast of Massachusetts. And while they didn't record the album there, they did do some recording in nearby Cape Cod.

The word "veckatimest," previously unknown to most of the band's audience, imparts some mystery. The island is not listed in the 2008 U.S. Census; the band says it's uninhabited. But if a terrain is uninhabited, can it really be known? Veckatimest, with its tangle of moods, poses the same question.

Grizzly Bear have their range pitched somewhere between peaceful and pensive, sliding forward and back, but with occasional eruptions of acidity. In "Fine for Now," which begins
a cappella with the guys blending notes, the guitar flitters restlessly. A minute in, it booms its presence, foreshadowing the weighty show of force to come. The song ends with half a minute of roiling: cymbals crashing, bass shuddering, a guitar ordered to trench like grunge never died.

Even with the smaller temblors earlier in the song, the display is unexpected, and halting at first. Swats between rounds of pretty warbling. Similarly surprising, the lusty sax that cries out before the first chorus of "I Live With You" delivers a beguiling smacker before it scoots out the door. The tone here is part plea, part lament. "And they'll try," Dan Rossen sings, "they'll try. They'll try / to keep us apart." He later shifts from "they" to "you," as though he's putting a face on an enemy. And there's a warning embedded: "You brought us this far / We'll do what we can." Duo crashes of guitar and cymbals unshroud the resentment in the lyrics, and the noisy contractions imply both internal flagellation and a stifled anger breaking free.

It's tempting to think of Veckatimest as a puzzle, but a 3-D
one, so that the innocent "Cheerleader," featuring the Brooklyn Youth Choir, could occupy the same space and never have to see the torment on the shadowed side. Surely, with its cautious gait, tottering drums and bass, and demure vocals, it would be scarred for life if exposed to such paroxysms.

Founder Ed Droste speaks of a pattern on "Foreground," but as the delicate piano prepares the guestroom for the choir, the shape of Veckatimest remains equivocal: "Take on another shift / Palms in the middle, hands in the middle / Work out another rift / Something is muffled, another juggle / This is a foreground / It is a foreground." Somewhere in there, there's a background, too.

No comments: