Within the first few seconds of “Sleeping Ute,” the opener of Grizzly Bears new record, “Shields,” the band makes it clear that they have eschewed the lush Beach Boys baroque that defined 2009’s much-praised “Veckatimest.” Mixing faster pop-sensible chord progressions with an only-so airy fuzz, it’s clear some slight inflection of song structure is meant to hover though. This is presumably what frontman Ed Droste meant when he promised in a Pitchfork interview that the much-awaited new album would be different than past efforts.
However, by mid-record, Grizzly Bear quickly returns to the plodding and meandering that defined their first two records. The minimalist pianos and earnest vocals of “The Hunt” could easily fit on 2006 “Yellow House” in a way that nothing on the opening track could. Clearly, no matter how many movie soundtracks and Jay-Z endorsements Grizzly Bear gets, “You are you/ and I stay me.”
The band does recognize the source of some of its recent success, however. “A Simple Answer” tries to resurrect the buoyant pop-bounce of “Two Weeks” with some degree of success, but while “Two Weeks” jumped off a mile-high diving board, “A Simple Answer” glorifies in swimming laps.
As earthbound as “Shields” may try to be, the record is still decidedly Grizzly Bear. However, though its distinctive sound echoes through the whole record, the song construction has changed. Previously, the sound would capture the plodding lyrics, piano and meld it all together with catchy folk. But in “Shields,” these components feel disconnected. Where previous efforts would use that lack of structure to slowly build an aural atmosphere that dissolved to become a song, Grizzly Bear’s newest batch viciously separates these elements. “Speak In Rounds” becomes a fully fledged song within the first minute while “What’s Wrong” buds grandly for three minutes and fades away for another two, but never really develops into anything terribly grand.
So, where does “Shields” fit in the Grizzly Bear narrative? “Sleeping Ute” and “Speak In Rounds” will receive their soundtrack airplay, garner the band a new fan or two and, considering the three-year-plus wait, not much will be lost or gained.
Andrew Karpan is a contributing writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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