Grizzly Bear, "Veckatimest"

May 26, 2009


Though the third album by the Brooklyn freak-folk quartet Grizzly Bear has been garnering ecstatic raves throughout the indie-rock underground, rarely has a recording that tries so hard to create a unique bucolic idyll--the name was inspired by a small uninhabited island in rural Massachusetts--sounded so deliberately contrived, convoluted and downright un-listener-friendly. In comparison, the Incredible String Band at its most serpentine and hippie-dippy was pure bubblegum pop.

Like the Pacific Northwest's modern folk-rockers Fleet Foxes or Blitzen Trapper, Grizzly Bear specializes in group vocals and an often acoustic, campfire vibe. But in place of the gorgeous and traditional harmonies, the New Yorkers favor a much more affected and, in my book, off-putting approach to the singing, evoking a bad imitation of Jeff Buckley's slippery crooning. Add to this the lo-fi digital production aesthetic--the musicians are as fond of laptop hiccups as they are of plucked, strummed or sawing strings--and you have a sound that's more Boho coffeehouse than backwoods hootenanny.

Far outnumbering the moments of quiet beauty ("Southern Point") and pop bliss ("Two Weeks") are the would-be lulling but in actuality boring bouts of pure inertia ("Hold Still," "Foreground") and the tuneless, meandering soundscapes that make me think of the Chipmunks on Ecstasy ("Dory," "Fine for Now")--and no, that it is not a compliment.