Rating: 6.5 / Format: CD/LP / Label: Warp
Brooklyn’s Grizzly Bear might be mates with Animal Collective, but their tendency to dress like members of the Yale croquet team and their weakness for clean, patently un-psychedelic, Paul Simon-influenced pop aligns them more with Manhattan’s Vampire Weekend.
They’re very different bands, however. Vampire Weekend’s music feels like one big love letter to the pleasures of bumming around upstate at Mum and Dad’s expense – it’s wistful, but only in the sense that it’s nostalgic; it’s not particularly emotionally engaged. Grizzly Bear are a more angsty proposition; if handled right, this could be an advantage, but on their third studio album, Veckatimest, it’s become a hindrance. Their carefully orchestrated, almost minimalist chamber-pop sound is as pretty as ever, but the whole seems to sag when it should be soaring: weighed down by the scantly deserved ennui of the lyrics and the minor-key shifts that buttress them.
The band sound best when they sound most care-free: ‘Two Weeks’ is perfection itself, thus far the only credible competition to ‘My Girls’ in the Song of 2009 stakes; it’s doleful, sure, but it has a jauntiness to it that reminds me of Terror Twilight-era Pavement. More to the point, it’s overwhelmingly melodious, with at least three stone-cold killer hooks at its heart – truth is, the rest of the songs on the album barely have three between them.
I’m being a bit harsh, of course. Album opener ‘Southern Points’ is a beautiful folk-rock ballad that seems to ripple before one’s very ears, at once languid and full of tightly-wound potential energy; ‘About Face’ and the breezy, sweetly falsetto ‘Cheerleader’ are similarly wonderful. These songs are simply let-down by directionless, overwrought rambles like ‘Hold Still’ and ‘Foreground’ that stop Veckatimest from catching fire and becoming the modern pop masterpiece it could be, and that the pre-release hype and celebrity endorsements would have you believe it actually is.