Grizzly Bear have always sounded different. Their noodling guitars and layered harmonies bristle against jerky, avant-garde arrangements, but on Shields they’ve really opened up . Their last album, Veckatimest, was sometimes a tough listen, with abrasive shapes and angular melodies that worried at your speakers and tested the patience/loyalty of the listener.
Shields retains this “alternative” tag, but is much more accessible with it. The shifts in tone and rhythm carry the listener along with them, instead of pushing you away. There are smoother emotive rises and falls, but this time the changes don’t try to bludgeon you into aural submission and the guitars have lost some of their shrill and fussy riffing – a classic case of less is more. The fastidiousness of old has evolved into a warmer directness so the songs hit home, in the chest as it were, and the band’s singer isn’t fighting to be heard over repeating landslide of crashing instruments.
On Veckatimest, Grizzly Bear could seem oppressive, but they’ve now discovered a deftness of touch that makes their moments of attack stand-out. Even at their most wistful or lovelorn the fluttering guitars are embellished with horns, pianos and organs that spiral off, weaving in and out of each other like a bunch of balloons finally set free.
The greatest strength of Grizzly Bear, is their ability to flip between what sounds like a mellow jazz club warm-up and feedback-drenched guitar wah-wah-ing around your ear
The Hunt, for example, pierces the eardrums with the sheet metal clang of their previous album's jagged experimentalism. But then the variations kick-in and Shields shifts between A Simple Answer, with its dancing chorus of bounced piano keys, calling to mind the urgent and rousing pop of Arcade Fire, before it fades out in a soft and sarcastic lament at being the “lucky one” left behind; to Gun-Shy, a Shins-like shuffle about an autumnal walk hearing lost footsteps and seeing distant smiles in a rush of faded leaves.
The greatest strength of Grizzly Bear is their ability to flip between what sounds like a mellow jazz club warm-up and feedback-drenched guitar wah-wah-ing around your ears. Like a rocked-up Wes Anderson film, this band have teeth but are now more keen to temper their aggressive streak with a veneer of aural tweed and craft better music. Be advised, these songs are not boring blues-by-numbers jams favoured by Keith Richards and other purist dinosaurs, this is jam-based, retro-tinged music that also manages to sound utterly modern and direct.
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