Thursday, June 04, 2009

Out and Hyped: Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest

Sometimes accessibility can be startling. For example, if you’re Animal Collective, you don’t expect to find yourself on late night talk shows. If you’re a less tripped out, mopier version of Animal Collective (aka Grizzly Bear), radio friendly singles are even less likely. But that’s just what Veckatimest accomplishes. It is accessible art rock for the common music lover.

Somehow, the sonically ambitious Veckatimest doesn’t come off too strong. But the band’s direction is clear. They’re aware of their hype. They knew there was a lot of pressure on this album. And so they took things up a notch. They were obligated to.

The production is reverb heavy, but whereas Yellow House is a drift in the clouds for an hour with maybe two or three distinctly memorable moments, Veckatimest is hooks, rapid crescendos, and melodies that stick with the listener afterwards. It’s album of the year material.

Grizzly Bear will join the ranks of Radiohead and Fleet Foxes as one of the “best bands in the world” by the end of the year. This album ushers them into the spotlight, where they will certainly be able to hold their own. Veckatimest debuted at number 8 on the Billboard charts, a sure fire sign that the band will be the great indie success story of 2009.

At least in this reviewers mind, though, Veckatimest is not as great as all of its hype has indicated. Maybe it’s just early backlash, but this album is practically predictable with all its dreary quirk. Even their creepy video for Two Weeks feels a little Neon Bible-ish. The four band members are sitting in the back of the church, with bug eyes that blink like tree frogs. By the end of the video, their robotic heads are up in flames. Artificial intelligence, smiling away as it burns to death in the cathedral. It’s easy to throw any religious commentary in there, but hasn’t Arcade Fire done enough of that already?

My problem with Veckatimest is that it actually followed the indie-success story formula. Grizzly Bear enjoyed some hype from Pitchfork with Yellow House, but certainly couldn’t headline Pitchfork fest. After a slow, hypnotic album of fuzz and ambience, the hype demands more. More production. More ambition. And that’s what we got. Surely, this was the album that Grizzly Bear had to create if they wanted to continue their uphill trajectory towards indie rock fame.

Now that they’re here, what’s next? Headlining tours and late night talk show performances. They’ll sell out every date, and Here We Go Magic will compliment them perfectly (and then Here We Go Magic will go through the exact same thing in two years from now).

It’s becoming all too familiar. Cue Wilco and Sufjan Stevens for examples of how to avoid this pigeonhole. They will not be forgotten next year, because whatever their next project is will be undeniably more risky and different than their last project. Grizzly Bear made all of the right moves on Veckatimest, and so will enjoy a year of success. But when the hype fades, they will be put in the same boat as Vampire Weekend, Beach House and Tapes N Tapes if they don’t do something to set themselves apart.

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