In July I called You Look Cold “as frozen and synaesthetic as anything you’re likely to hear this year”, as if frigidity and synaesthesia were primary criteria in anyone’s taste checklist. Not that I want to retract or anything. It crunches underfoot as you listen to it, definitely, and it recalls maybe the smell of mouldy wallpaper or overheated chips from toyshop Casios. The delivery changes from song to song. Until I Get Paid is some exceptionally bizarre ghost doo-wop, where Wintertime’s Doll is a creaky, spacious dirge and Blue Eyes is threateningly sinister accelerando analogue electronica. But what binds them is the juxtaposition of metronome beats from evidently cheap instruments with lush, considered layers, icy futurism, dusty pastism and an ability to deliver a song without a blink. Genre-wise, you could throw prefixes (kraut-, freak-, prog-) or suffixes (-folk, -tronica) at this all you want and never end up within fifty miles of accuracy. This is a step forward.
With every physical copy of Hospice comes a small booklet, eight pages long. On the front is a stylised caduceus, symbol for medicine, in black on a plain white background. It’s perfect, far better than the cartoon hands on the actual album cover, because it’s so economical. There is mostly just white space, like the music. But in the centre is a symbol, a lead to something more. And it’s the caduceus which, long story short, is a symbol that has only come to represent medicine because of a continuous, historically cemented misuse. Which is really almost too perfect to be true for Hospice. Because it’s an album about a hospice, right? About a dying loved one, maybe a relative or a lover? It perfectly evokes the hopelessness and helplessness of those dying days, if you’ve ever experienced them, it goes through the gamut of guilt, anger, desperation, etc. That’s what the lyrics in the book are about, that’s what the spare, resonant music recalls. But scratch closer. Hospice isn’t about death. It’s about love, or the death of love. As a song-cycle, it’s a work of fiction up there with a well-wrought novel. At a casual listen, it’s just deeply moving music.
Grizzly Bear is a band with talent, in the traditional, conventional sense. They can all sing pin-point harmonies, they have a knack for arrangement swinging from lush to austere, and above all, they know how to hit a high-point. If a lesser band were equipped with the tools Grizzly Bear have, Veckatimest would be nothing more than loud-quiet-loud with clarinets. But that’s not what it is. It’s sensitive, incredibly careful, constructed with considerable thought and artifice. With creaky attics drums and a reverberating guitar, they build a new, dusty house on the shore, like Yellow House before it. But they shine light in differently this time. At once using a wider lens and more detail, Veckatimest’s caution is what makes the peaks when they come. The human foil to 2009’s insinuated strangeness, Grizzly Bear are not mad experimenters, but carriers of song. So, when the truly transcendent moments do come – and they do, signalled for example by the oscillating organs at 1.45 in Ready, Able – a very specific picture locks in mind. Four men on the Atlantic coast trying to row a wooden row-boat to the cosmos.