It's hard to decide what the most impressive thing about Veckatimest is: Grizzly Bear's ambition, which is seemingly boundless, or the fact that this boundless ambition never eclipses these songs. The band already made such an impressive leap from Horn of Plenty to Yellow House that an album to catch their breath would have been understandable. However, Grizzly Bear are most comfortable when they're challenging themselves, and Veckatimest delivers everything that Yellow House did and more. Just as that album blew off the dust and noise that covered Horn of Plenty's lo-fi sketches, this album's production clears away any remaining cobwebs, revealing these songs in all their intricate detail. That detail includes string quartet and choral arrangements by composer and conductor Nico Muhly on some tracks, but all of Veckatimest has a more rarefied air than any of Grizzly Bear's previous work. The band hints at the just how big the album's scope is with its first two tracks: "Southern Point"'s psychedelic folk-jazz throws listeners into its bustling acoustic guitars, piles of vocal harmonies, swishy drums, and various sparkling sounds, making it a disorienting and dazzling opening salvo. The gorgeous "Two Weeks," by contrast, is the album's most immediate moment, its "Would you always? Maybe sometimes? Make it easy? Take your time" chorus teetering elegantly between pleading and reassuring as it's buoyed by backing vocals courtesy of Beach House's Victoria LeGrand. From there, Veckatimest ranges from Yellow House-like rambles such as "Hold Still" and "Dory" -- which plays like a kissing cousin to "Little Brother" -- to elaborate, quicksilver suites like "I Live with You," which builds from the Brooklyn Youth Choir's vocals into skyward-climbing chamber pop, to "While You Wait for the Others" and "Cheerleader"'s deceptively simple pop. At the heart of all these songs are negotiations with someone close, as on "All We Ask"'s admission "I can't get out of what I'm into with you." Though the sheer heft of songs such as "Fine for Now" could easily topple the album's balance between ambition and intimacy, Grizzly Bear knows when to come in for close-focus moments like "About Face" and the final track, "Foreground" which, with its plaintive vocals and simple piano melody, is one of the band's most beautiful ballads yet. It's clear that Veckatimest was made for a lot of listening. Nearly every song feels like the musical equivalent of a big meal: there's lots to digest, and coming back for second (and thirds, and more) is necessary.
by Heather Phares