Grizzly Bear
4.5 out of 5 stars

The online leak of an album has become an event in itself. Growing legions of torrent-savvy listeners feverishly searching for download links have made official release dates little more than aftershocks.

When Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest leaked in early March, almost three months prior to its official release date, principal songwriter Ed Droste expressed his discontent not with the failure to keep the album under wraps, but with the poor audio quality of the leaked copy. Considering the murky state of the industry, it’s refreshing that record sales are not the primary concern. Droste’s concern with the (internet) public’s initial impression of the new album sums the situation up pretty well: If it’s going to leak, it damn well better sound good.

Bitrates and audiophilic gripes aside, Veckatimest does sound good. Really good. Upon the album’s leak, Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes went so far as to congratulate Droste and the band (via Twitter) for making “the album of the decade.” While this fawning compliment might be an exaggeration, Veckatimest is definitely the strongest collection from the Brooklyn quartet yet, offering twelve shimmering and deceptively complex tracks that showcase a band in full collaborative swing.

“Southern Point” starts the album at a frantic pace, with frenzied acoustic guitar, deft left-handed piano lines and co-lead songwriter Dan Rossen’s somewhat mysterious lyrics (“You’ll never find me now / But I’ll return to you / When you return to me”) immediately placing the album outside of familiar territory.

A chiming Rhodes keyboard kicks off “Two Weeks,” one of the best pop songs in recent memory. Aided by the narcotic howls of Beach House’s Victoria Legrand, the three other members of Grizzly Bear display their considerable vocal talents behind Droste’s soulful lead. Add Chris Bear’s masterfully playful drumming and the chorus’s sweeping keyboards and what results is an endearing and astonishingly fresh take on infectious ’60s Motown pop.

The middle section of the album ditches pop simplicity for enchanting and lush compositions, with Chris Bear and bassist/producer Chris Taylor lending ethereal falsetto harmonies behind Rossen and Droste’s soulful musings.

Rooted in a jazzy 6/8 rhythm, “Fine For Now” is filled with Rossen’s guitar flourishes that keep the song sunlit. Dreamy “Cheerleader” is complete with a girls’ choir, string arrangements and various woodwinds coloring the background, while “Ready, Able” packs a carnival churn reminiscent of Sgt. Pepper’s “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”

“While You Wait For the Others” is a quick favorite and return to form, with a verse-chorus-verse repetition that, despite being familiar, does not undercut what is Rossen’s best songwriting to date.

The more atmospheric moments of Yellow House, the band’s 2006 release, reappear in the beautifully sparse “I Live With You,” as a chamber of cellos quickly evolves into a cacophony of brass and string instruments behind Bear’s tastefully frenetic drumming. Easily the album’s climax, the chaos simmers into the humble opening piano strikes on the post-fallout “Foreground” before the choir returns to close the album in gorgeous fashion.

One of the most striking aspects of Grizzly Bear’s sound are the dense, often haunting vocal arrangements. There are very few moments on the album when fewer than two people are singing, lending it a sonic weight bested only by full choirs or symphonies.

But Veckatimest is really a symphony all its own, immersing the listener in a comforting cocoon of unfamiliar sounds. It’s not surprising, then, that the album’s fitting title (named for an uninhabited, city-block-sized island off the coast of Cape Cod) adds to the feeling of being happily stranded.

Desert-island puns aside, Veckatimest is a masterstroke of experimental folk and pop songwriting and production. Nearly three months after it was first exposed to the world, the album continues to reward.

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