ARTIST: Grizzly Bear
RATING: 4 out of 5

Back with their third full length album, Brooklyn-based indie act Grizzly Bear have released one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the year with Veckatimest.

Named for a small island in Massachusetts and produced by band member Chris Taylor, Veckatimest takes its musical cues from the likes of Arcade Fire or Mercury Rev, but the group manages to capture their unique sound, led by multi-instrumentalist Christopher Bear (who manages to contribute drums, glockenspiel, xylophone and steel guitar to the album, while also somehow handling the vocal duties), while aiming for something much bigger.

Sure, multi-layered ‘doo-wop’ harmonies on “Two Weeks” are gorgeous, the old-school rock feel drizzled over “While You Wait For The Others” is pleasantly surprising, and the majestic stomp of “Southern Point” is inspiring, all while proving the groups legitimate pop writing skills – but it’s the truly big moments that define this record.

“I Live For You”, with its appearance by the Brooklyn Youth Choir and tender string arrangements by Nico Muhly, and equally beautiful tracks “Fine For Now” and “Dory”, are among the many highlights on a wonderful album that almost perfectly straddles the important line between the groups’ larger-than-life ambition and the heart-warming intimacy the songs deserve.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5

Perhaps better known in music circles for the controversy surrounding their 2002 album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot – the finished album was rejected by their label, Reprise Records, and the band were released from their contract, before being picked up by Nonesuch Records and releasing the album, despite both Reprise and Nonesuch being subsidiaries of Warner Music – Wilco are back this month with Wilco (The Album).

Eponymously named because singer Jeff Tweedy felt this album reflected what the band should really sound like, and partly recorded at Roundhead Studios in Auckland, The Album is easily the groups most accessible work to date, shunning the more experimental tendencies of past records and largely veering away from the groups usual country-fused rock sound.

Opener “Wilco (The Song)” and highlight “One Wing” display this new sound, though tracks like “Bull Black Nova”, “You and I”, with its appearance by Canadian pop star Feist, and “I’ll Fight” get closer to the groups’ roots, but never turn the casual listener off the album.

The real high points here are the tender moments on acoustic-driven ballad “Solitaire” or piano-based album closer “Everlasting Everything”, which showcase Tweedy’s unique ability to entice the listener by giving character to the most minimal of soundscapes.

ARTIST: Chickenfoot
RATING: 2 out of 5

On paper, a hard-rock supergroup featuring former Van Halen members Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony, on vocals and bass respectively, with guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani and Red Hot Chilli Peppers drummer Chad Smith seems like a pretty good idea, and when the news broke last year that the group would release an album in June 2009 the hype machine began cranking out story after story on the fledgling band, particularly in their home country.

So effective was the hype that the groups’ self-titled debut managed to land at number 4 on the US charts.

Sadly, while it seems like a can’t-miss idea, the finished product falls short – not really falling short of expectations, as there really weren’t any, but falling short of what you would imagine the groups’ potential could be.

Singer Sammy Hagar does his best, and sounds great at times, but his Robert Plant-inspired vocal ultimately sounds dated. Michael Anthony and Chad Smith do their best, but their free-wheeling rock sensibilities are sometimes hampered by the tight precision and carefully-planned arrangement that Joe Satriani has made a career out of. Despite highlights “Runnin Out” and “Soap on a Rope”, it all sounds a little scripted and tied-down.