There was a joke doing the rounds in the Eighties. Thatcher meets Reagan to talk about the American’s nuclear policy. When she warns Reagan that the route he’s taking could precipitate another world war, he responds “Goddamn it, we were late for the first two, we’re gonna make goddamn sure we’re on time for the third!”. I’m like that with Grizzly Bear albums. I completely missed their first album, “Horn Of Plenty”, and when “Yellow House” became a huge underground hit in 2006, I was so busy looking after our new baby that the only thing I really desired was sleep, sweet, sweet sleep. At some point last year I came across “Knife” and one quick purchase later, “Yellow House” became my album of 2008. Like the Americans in WWII, it’s better to get there eventually than not get there at all.
So when “Veckatimest” was announced back in February, just as I was starting this blog, I thought – “Right, going to be on time for this one”. I’ve found live versions of songs, sniffed out tracks like “Cheerleader” as they got drip-fed to us, and steadfastly ignored the dodgy quality leak that surfaced a couple of months back. Now, with my dirty hands on a proper, legit copy, I can finally listen to the work of art that those lovely chaps crafted for a couple of years. Is it any good? Is it a contender for Album of the Year? Is it as good as “Yellow House”? Will Ed Droste get RSI from Tweeting so much? To which the answers are, yes, probably, possibly, and most definitely.
Of course, once a band has a big, classic breakthrough album, whatever follows is always going to be in danger of being a disappointment. Look at Broken Social Scene, whose “BSS (Windsurfing Nation)” is in no way a match for “You Forgot It In Others” (7/4 Shoreline excepted, of course). But then look at Tindersticks, whose Second Album was a distillation of everything that was great about their First Album 1 into one even better package of misery and pain. Thankfully, Grizzly Bear have worked hard on diversifying their sound so if you’re expecting Yellow House v2, you might be slightly confounded.
Take the opener, “Southern Point”. Starting off with an intricate guitar pattern, like a baroque Radiohead, it suddenly bursts violently into life at the chorus with thumping drums, flutes, a choir, and lord knows what else. Stunning way to start an album, chaps. Or “Two Weeks” with Ed Droste showing off his polished-up baritone (and doesn’t it sound great?). Check out the freaky Patrick Daughters video here2:
“All We Ask” returns to the Grizzly Bear Template, and is almost disappointing for that, until a remarkable coda, during which the whole band go barbershop-quartet-on-Prozac, singing “I can’t/Get Out/Of What I’m Into/With You”. Meditation on doomed love? Metaphor for band life? Who knows? Who cares, when it sounds so good?
From there, we’ve got the wonders of “Cheerleader”, which you really must have heard by now, and freaked out when you realise he’s singing “I’m shooting them myself/I should’ve made it matter”. The stunning “Ready, Able” takes the chamber-pop template of “Southern Point” and runs with it to gorgeous new places, invoking the spirit of Cocteau Twins on the way.
“About Face”, with its tricky rhythm, has strange keyboard (or possibly guitar) stabs that bring back the memory of mid-80’s Wire. “While You Wait For The Others”, another well-previewed song that hasn’t lost any power through its familiarity, leads the album towards its close.
What strikes me, after the first, ooh, fifteen listens, is the amount of diversity in their sound. You’d forgive them for repeating some of the unusual tricks they showed in older tracks like “Knife” or “Little Brother (Electric)”, or even out and out copying the big hitters, as a lesser band would do. But by and large, they’ve built on what made their last album so fantastic. There’s an adventurousness with the sound that makes comparisons with other bands rather tough. Beach Boys? Check. Radiohead? Check. Anyone else? Didn’t think so.
The only problem is, a few days of listening just isn’t enough. I’m still uncovering bits of “Cheerleader” months after my first listen, just like I was with “Marla” or “On A Neck, On A Spit”. So the question of what I’ll feel about this album by the end of the year is a tough one to answer, and not one I can even hope to answer properly a week after release.
All I can say right now is, it’s worth listening to the hype. Sometimes it’s right.
1 Yes, that’s what they are called. Imagination is a wonderful thing.