Review – Veckatimest by Grizzly Bear

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.

A Veckatimest, Yesterday

A Veckatimest, Yesterday

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.

2 Member of the fantastic Directors Bureau, whose website is well worth half an hour of your time.

MP3: Ready, Able by Grizzly Bear

MP3: Cheerleader (Live) by Grizzly Bear

Buy “Veckatimest” Here (CD/MP3)

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Music – Cocteau Twins and Grizzly Bear

A very good Bank Holiday to you.

First off, a little birdie tells me that Grizzly Bear will be appearing on BBC2’s Later on Tuesday night, with the full programme on Friday night. When I say, a little birdie, I do mean my TV’s EPG. Not a birdie. Anyway, I suspect I’ll be missing it as I’ll be busy watching Arsenal beat Man U 3-1 in the Champion’s League Semi-Final at Ashburton Grove. I tell you now, Arsenal will be leading 2-0 until the 87th minute, when Ryan Giggs will annoyingly score, with Walcott scoring a heroic goal after running the length of the pitch in the 94th minute. You heard it here first.

Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, Grizzly Bear. On TV. Playing stuff from Veckitawoowoo. Tuesday night. Don’t miss it (like me).

Edit: Just reading an interesting article in the New Yorker about our Grizzly friends.

After listening to the next installment of the Pitchfork 500, I needed to cleanse my head of a particularly egregious example of hideous MOR, and what better than the lovely Cocteau Twins? Here’s Donimo. No, I don’t know either; I suspect it’s their famous sense of humour again.

And what a lovely song it is too – it’s got that quiet-loud dynamic of their classic period, with the slight Hispanic inflections later explored more fully on “Echoes In A Shallow Bay”. Funnily enough, whilst listening to this, I opened up a Sunday Times Culture section from a few weeks ago, and there was a photo of Liz Fraser, in an article about how Shoegazing Is Back!. Not a bad read for a Sunday afternoon.

So here’s Donimo, and what a fine, fine song it is too.

MP3: Donimo by Cocteau Twins

Buy Cocteau Twins “Treasure” (CD/MP3)

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New Music – Grizzly Bear, Broken Social Scene

First of all, I’ve been suffering from tonsilitis the last few days so I’ve been quiet.

The gradual release of decent-quality MP3’s from Grizzly Bear’s Veckitisawhatsitagain? continues, with “Cheerleader”, previously heard live, making its way out onto the big wide Interwebz. The live version, as you would expect, was rough and lacking their expert use of the studio, but certainly sounded promising.

Now, bizarrely, I got hold of this last week and thought it was fab. And thought I’d uploaded it here. But I hadn’t. Doh!

The word on the street is that it’s actually one of the weaker tunes from Veckatiswheresmyspellchecker. If that’s the case, then we’ve got rather a lot to look forward to when the album is released on May 26th. (Don’t you go and download the leaked version, as it’s pretty poor quality and you’ll miss out on all the detail. When I get the CD it’ll be ripped at about 14,000kbs, you know, and will take up half my iPod. And I’ve got a biiiig iPod)

“Cheerleader” is certainly a bit more relaxed and less ominous than tracks from Yellow House, it fair floats along in a rather dreamy way, with guitars cutting through Ed Droste’s beautiful singing, and yes, a children’s choir. A five minute slice of loveliness and I think, yes, I’ve got to mark it with my famed1 Sonic Cathedrals of Sound tag.

An album that passed me by last year, thanks to a continually changing UK release date that baffled the lovely folk at Rough Trade as much as me, was Brendan Canning’s “solo” album with Broken Social Scene. The founder of Broken Social Scene who’s not Kevin Drew, he’s the chap who looks a bit like a physics teacher who someone has put a bass on him and told him to be funky2. Lovely fella, having had all of a thirty second conversation with him and Kevin after their Shepherd’s Bush show last year. Anyway, I stumbled across their video for “Churches Under The Stairs” the other day, and rather fine it is too:

The band, who at their smallest number about 16 (ok, 8), do a Soundclash-style face off, Drew vs Canning. The song itself is almost Type-A BSS, with that wonderful motorik/New Order groove and great little drum rolls, fills and pauses that make your heart stop for an instant before suddenly throwing you forward again. Great interplay between Canning and Drew as well, as you’d expect.

Is it just me that prays every night to an uncaring God, to get all the top people in BSS together – you know, Feist, Amy Millan, Jason Collett, Emily Haines
3 – to make another album as good as “You Forgot It In People”? Yeah, I know, it’ll never happen.

1 Round here, at least.

2 The bassline of “Stars and Sons” was his work, and quite frankly is possibly the funkiest bassline in indie music since “Barbarism Begins At Home”:

3 Speaking of which, the new Metric album rocks.

Cheerleader by Grizzly Bear

Churches Under The Stairs by Broken Social Scene Featuring Brendan Canning

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More New Old Stuff – Wye Oak, Grizzly Bear

In my typical fashion, I heard some great new music the other day, only to discover that they had been around for ages. That’s what you get round here, year old news. Ah well.

Anyway, the two bands I was listening to were Monarch and Wye Oak. Both deal in that dreamy late-80’s, early-90’s British vibe, as perfected by My Bloody Valentine, Lush etc. And sounded oddly similar. Including having the same album title and a couple of tracks the same. So, with a bit more research, and finding a bunch of bands called “Monarch”, I managed to discover from here that Monarch had had the same problem, so renamed themselves to Wye Oak.

And what a lovely name it is, too, being the state tree of Maryland. I love that US thing of having state trees, state animals, and state moods (New Jersey: Angry, Idaho: Gloomy, California: Smug). You could never do that in the UK. The state tree of most of the north would be a “That shrubby bush that some kids have tried to set fire to”.

Anyway, Wye Oak. They are a couple from Baltimore, who sound about as far from the city of The Wire than you could imagine. A bit dreamy, a bit noisy, and really quite good.

In other news, I’ve heard that Veckatimoomoo by Grizzly Bear has been leaked. I am not going to post it as I’ve already had my ass busted once, thank you, and it just doesn’t seem the right thing to do to such a lovely band. Please pre-order it. Though if the band do release any more songs from the record I shall be sure to post it here, hopefully within a month or two. Cough.

Warning by Wye Oak

If Children Were Wishes by Wye Oak

A New Bit Of Grizzly Bear And Other Fierce Animals

So, new chunks of Veckitamitsawhoozle keep creeping out, this time a lovely new track by the name “While You Wait For The Others”. According to some sources it’s the new single, others state it’s just another track on tha ablum, but who really takes much notice of singles these days anyway? Ooh, back in my day, 7″, shall I spend the extra on the 12″ with the extra tracks, jumpers for goalposts etc. In any case, it’s got a touch of the “Little Brother (Electric)” from the “Friends EP”, which frankly is absolutely fine by me. Certainly bodes well for the album, out in May, and is hugely anticipated. Oh yes, I’m going to be posting more stuff as I get it (ok, I know this came out last week but I’ve been busy).

In other animal-related news, Super Furry Animals are recording a new album and have got themselves four cameras, which they are using to record themselves recording the album. You can see this fascinating experiment on their website. Certainly has a particular hypnotic quality to it. One of them is having a kip on the sofa right now!. Fantastic.

Anyway, this is a really quick post as I’ve been busy all day. I’ve got the next bit of the Pitchfork 500, which is all post-punky and no-wavey to do, so hopefully that should be in tomorrow’s blog.

I’ve also been neglecting the Friday Python. Here’s a great one:

Ah, Graham Chapman. The man was a genius. “And a bit suspect, I think”.

While You Wait For The Others by Grizzly Bear

Review – Dark Was The Night – Various Artists

Dark Was The Night is a new charity compilation released by those lovely folks over at 4AD. It features a bunch of newly recorded songs, both new songs and covers, by some of the brightest and greatest bands around at the moment, from Grizzly Bear and The National to Feist and Sufjan Stevens. The charity Red, for AIDS sufferers around the world, is the benefactor, and the album assembled by the Dessner brothers from The National.

Now I’ve got to say that some of the bands on here are top favourites round L&L Mansions, so I was rather keen to give this a spin (can you spin MP3’s?) to see what they’d come up with. And it’s mostly pretty good. A few things I have learned from this album. Some artists can be covered, like Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. Others, like Nick Drake, just sound like weak interpretations, no matter how skilfully done. Sorry, The Books. That the pairing of Anthony Johnson’s voice and Bryce Dessner’s guitar is a match made in heaven (and I’m not really much of an Anthony fan). That The Decemberists still sound like an American Levellers. That Sufjan Stevens, though a genius, isn’t always perfect. And neither are Arcade Fire, bless them.

That My Morning Jacket have a nice line in 50’s doo-wop. That Dave Sitek, stripped of much of the cleverness of TV On The Radio, can be suprisingly charming, though still bizarrely reminiscent of AR Kane. That Stuart Murdoch sounds like a Scottish Nico. That Cat Power, Buck 65 and Spoon should go and take a long, hard look at themselves for what they have done.

Feist and Grizzly Bear combine on the old Grizzly Bear track “Service Bell”, which is not quite the sum of its respective parts. But Grizzly Bear’s own track “Deep Blue Sea” is one of the highlights, and finds them in pleasant acoustic live mode rather than we’re-going-to-creep-you-out Yellow House mode. And the track is followed up by a new The National song, “So Far Round The Bend”, featuring a string and horn arrangement, from Nico Muhly, who’s also worked with Grizzly Bear on their new album Veckaitimawhatsit (by the way, check that link out – a blog purely devoted to the new Grizzly Bear album). Incestuous? Ah, who cares if the music is great. And this song’s a peach, boding well for whatever The National do next. For yeah, sayeth the Lord, Boxer was top.

And there are loads of other decent tracks on here. I haven’t even started wittering on about Yo La Tengo or David Byrne. Or Iron & Wine. Or how I still don’t get Bon Iver.

Anyway, charity albums have a habit of having a couple of good tracks with lots of filler, or re-released material. Dark Was The Night manages to serve up a whole load of what’s called alternative music these days, and it’s a treat for fans and newcomers alike. You might even find yourself listening to it a whole bunch of times. Well done, folks.

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