The five-year evolution of Grizzly Bear from desultory one-man band (Ed Droste) to a quartet twiddling lo-fi psychedelics and sonic tone poems to the opulent mix and mannered string and chorale arrangements of their latest, “Veckatimest,” is one of the great blossomings in contemporary music.
Like “Merriweather Post Pavilion” by Animal Collective (its rival for most critically lauded album of 2009), “Veckatimest” takes the billowy beauty of the Radiohead aesthetic into more arty, eclectic terrain. Even more than “Merriweather,” it is a song collection best rendered in toto, like a deciduous forest of elms, oaks, maples and ashes in autumn, full of wild splotches of color, gently falling leaves, dancing shades, cool loam and a multifaceted yet kindred array of bark textures and leaf shapes. And, like a walk in the woods, immersing yourself in the music yields an appreciation of its subtleties and connective tissues that don’t happen if you stick to the well-worn promenades of three or four favorite tracks.
Put simply, “Veckatimest” grows on you. This is becoming a golden era for intricate pop-rock soundscapes (you could add My Morning Jacket to Radiohead and further back to late-period Beatles as seminal influences), and what Grizzly Bear lack in visceral jolt they compensate for with their sophisticated massage of subconscious listening. It serves as foreground and background music at the same time, at different levels.
Obviously, the studio is a more hospitable womb for this sort of creation. But what bands like Animal Collective and Grizzy Bear can accomplish live (aside from simple music promotion) is sharpened dynamics and more of the visceral drama that would disrupt the arc of the studio versions. It’s worth noting that one of the ways the Brooklyn quartet has increased their audience is through steady touring. Those who haven’t caught them on their swings through town (including yours truly) get another chance tonight at First Avenue. Here they are on Letterman this July. Here they are on another television talk show, from England. And here they are at the outdoor festival in Bonnaroo this year.
Grizzly Bear at First Avenue, tonight, 8 p.m., $22.