Content warning: This piece contains mentions of self-harm.
I truly believe there is music each of us are destined to hear. Think of it this way: we have frequencies or wavelengths unique to our souls. When listening to a particular song, there may be something to its melody or lyrics or beat that just makes you say, “Yeah, that’s it. That’s me.” This I believe is the frequency that synchronizes with your soul — a sensation that speaks to you unlike anything else.
I stumbled upon Grizzly Bear’s 2009 album “Veckatimest” after hearing its most popular song, “Two Weeks,” in some random Vine edit one night in 2016. It was midway through sixth grade, characterized by the drowsy and sobering period of the damp New Jersey cold when the sun fell before 5 p.m. These conditions only worsened my state of mind. I was heavily depressed, perhaps suicidal to begin with, because honestly, who wasn’t at that age? Crippled by insecurities, I didn’t find friends in sixth grade and wouldn’t for the rest of middle school. It only got worse. Some underlying part of me knew what was coming ahead, a premonition of sorts, and jump-started the grieving process before I even realized what I had lost.
If you’ve ever heard a Grizzly Bear song, then you know the sound. It’s very distinctive to the band and perhaps the very thing that drives away the casual listener. Perusing the album “Veckatimest” and picking a song — say “Dory” or “Southern Point” — is its own sort of Russian roulette. Some, if not most, songs are deceiving; they sound tranquil, subdued for a moment or two before descending into a discordant score. Others are hurried and chaotic from the start. Either way, it’s understandable for the initial reaction to any song within “Veckatimest” or in Grizzly Bear’s entire discography to be anxiety-ridden. One might ask, “Who in the world would enjoy music like this?” I do, and many others, for that exact reason.
Listening to “Two Weeks” for the first time in the wake of my pubescent angst was surreal. The melody and chorus — but especially the melody — oozed a nostalgia I couldn’t put my nose on. Maybe it’s because the bittersweet piano seemed reminiscent of “Blinded by the Light” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, a tune I lucidly held on to from my early childhood but imagined as something that never existed. Of course, there isn’t nostalgia without an air of melancholy. Ed Droste — the band’s former lead singer and heart of the sound — carries such sadness in the sentimental notes he drags. I’d listen to him tell me, “Take your time” as if it were a mantra. I was left in awe — tears, too. This music made negative emotions and sensations comforting in a way I never heard before.
The coziness of “Two Weeks” is hardly found in any other Grizzly Bear song, but that didn’t deter my pursuit of musical resonance, anxiety prone as I was. I got hooked. By that point, I felt prepared for any twist or insane cacophony thrown at me from my shuffled playlist. Those were the best parts! I relied on this melodic chaos daily, several times a day; headphones would be on and blasting some Grizzly Bear goodness at home, on the bus, before class, after class, drawing at my desk, on the toilet. This was as habitual a self-soothing technique as thumb sucking is for a kid, which, mind you, I did not stop doing until I reached the ripe age of 14 — I was a late bloomer. The song was mindless stimulation all the same.
But “Veckatimest” wasn’t just mindless stimulation. When any of its songs played, I disconnected. My mind would arrive at this pocket of silent snowfall in which I saw myself sunken into immaterial powder. The scene would be gray, still. I did not feel cold, but rather numb and peaceful.
Sometimes I wasn’t in the mood for that, though. Grizzly Bear’s more frenzied music would at times send me into a state of rapture. My ears, beaten by the most treacherous and unrelenting sounds you could possibly hear, supercharged neurons that shot from my brain to my legs and my arms. Every finger — hell, even toe — drummed, each with their own beat to thump. I’d be overcome by a weird and explorative dance when in privacy. Such music could not be more undanceable, but alas, I found spirituality in getting jiggy with this indie folk. My mind would come out tired but incredibly relieved as if its ruffles received an aural massage.
There is a great catharsis in having such a strong connection in both mind and body to a piece of music. For sensations that can’t be visualized nor explained, music can provide an answer. That’s the beauty of sound in its mysterious synchronicity to our souls, that sense of ineffable resonance. In finding “Veckatimest,” I found me.