Grizzly Bear’s last record, the phenomenal Yellow House, was built as much on its unique atmosphere and production as it was on fine songwriting. The expansive and distant aesthetic gave the songs a genuine setting, and brought them to life in the titular house where they were recorded. It worked best as a slow trip, fifty minutes as a guest in the band’s world.
Veckatimest is something different. From the opening splash of the jaunty ‘Southern Point’ to the cloudy vocals and starry piano that bring ‘Foreground’ to a close, there’s something of the outdoors about it – isolated and wild, like the little New England island which gives the album its title. You’re still away with the band somewhere, but they’ve moved from the dusty house out into an equally serene landscape: the first lines of the album declaring that: ‘our haven on the southern point is calling us.’ It’s like Grizzly Bear have founded their own country on this abandoned scrap of land, and are inviting everyone to come and see what happens. They’ve even got their own anthem in the form of ‘Two Weeks’, a song so summery, it’s as if playing it loud enough could make the sun come out. Ed Droste’s brooding vocals ring out over bleached piano keys and a beat that positively struts with confidence, and it’s one of the most glorious moments on an album full of them.
Given how much attention has been paid of late to his co-vocalist Dan Rossen- his other band, Department of Eagles, having released a fine album of their own – it’s almost surprising how much Droste positively rules here. Be it on the choppy ‘Cheerleader’ or the ethereal closer ‘Foreground’, where his vocals sound more haunted and forlorn than ever, the impression given by his appearances is one of a musician at the height of his powers.
Most songs here build noticeably on the foundations laid by Yellow House. As well as Chris Taylor’s ‘was-that-even-a-guitar?’ production, which remains utterly gorgeous, the band are taking their favourite tricks and applying them in new ways. Their barbershop quartet sound works here on a new level, as on ‘Dory’ or ‘All We Ask’, the last thirty seconds of which are so joyously lovelorn, it’s difficult to let it end without hitting repeat. Rossen’s trademark golden guitar tone is as effective as ever, especially when used to such stunning effect on the album’s other instant hit, ‘While You Wait For The Others.’
As the group’s second album proper, Veckatimest does everything it should. It takes a significant step on from Yellow House, and develops their sound without simply following the same old paths. It’s got enough depth to satisfy fans, and enough pop genius on display to win many new converts. It won’t appeal to everyone – there’s a lot going on here, and the album takes a few listens to properly reveal its scale. But it certainly would seem to be the masterpiece Grizzly Bear have been threatening to make, and as fine an album as you’ll hear this year.