Because the Arctic Monkeys appeared so fully formed on their 2006 instant-hit debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, it’s hard to see Alex Turner as a man of many moods. On that first album and its sound-alike follow-up, Favourite Worst Nightmare, Turner set his sly accounts of nights spent down the pub against an appealingly scrappy garage-rock attack that hardly seemed to reflect the nascent noodlings of a budding musical magpie. Here was a guy, you figured, who could go on making records exactly like these forever, as long as he continued to drink too much and view others’ motives with suspicion.
Yet last year, with side project The Last Shadow Puppets, Turner revealed his unexpected knack for ’60s-style orchestral pop; now, on the Monkeys’ third long-player, he’s pulling a left-field stoner-metal move. Turner and his bandmates made half of Humbug in California with Josh Homme of Queens Of The Stone Age, who beefed up the guitars and set the tempo control to boogie (Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford helmed the other half). Sometimes Homme’s touch works, as in ‘Potion Approaching’, in which Turner sounds great unraveling his louche come-ons over a sleazy robot-rock groove. But the Monkeys are a lyrics-and-melodies band, not a texture-and-mood one, and with the singer’s vocals often buried under layers of guitars and keyboards, much of Humbug conceals the outfit’s special charm. Props for trying, dudes, but better luck next time.
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Since the onset of the aughts, indie tastemakers have curried favor with Brooklyn bands to an alarming degree. Perhaps no act is riding this hype wave higher than Grizzly Bear, a shimmering success whose delicate art-rock juxtaposes simple acoustic strumming with ambitious accompaniment.
Three years on from its breakout, Yellow House, the group sounds increasingly assured yet ever ambitious. Previously the solo endeavor of Ed Droste, the foursome gelled as a true band on that 2006 effort. The arcanely titled latest finds Grizzly Bear abandoning its blurry haze in favor of crisp production and hyper-precise arrangements.
Album opener ‘Southern Point’ reveals an expert blend of jazzy, folk-informed chamber-pop. Soaring harmonies continue to define the quartet, as on the charming soft-rock of ‘Cheerleader’ and the ecstatic waltz ‘Two Weeks’. Daniel Rossen has become an essential songwriter in the group, his quivering, underwater warble belying his 26 years. Indeed, the bittersweet shuffle of ‘While You Wait For The Others’ could just as easily fit Rossen’s other vehicle, the autumnal and lilting Department Of Eagles.
Veckatimest boasts assistance from composer Nico Muhly, who contributes choral and string arrangements on two tracks. Not that the songs need the classical wünderkind’s arrangements: Rossen capably handles choral and string accompaniment on the powerful ‘I Live With You’. The same uninhibited spirit keeps the hipsterati coming back for more.