If Grizzly Bear’s latest album goes out like a lion, it comes in like a lion wearing a pretty formidable drug rug. The Brooklyn-based quartet’s wind-tossed orchestral pop stunner, 2009’s Veckatimest, debuted in the Billboard Top 10 and propelled Grizzly Bear’s rise to mainstream consciousness. Happily, though, playing to an expanded audience hasn’t prompted the band to water down their delightfully enigmatic approach.
It’s not that Grizzly Bear shun pop convention, exactly—they just reconfigure it. The first moments of “Sleeping Ute,” the opening track on Shields, are disarming: A druggy swirl of electric guitar surfaces and repeats, followed by a woozy bass-and-cymbal pattern that makes for an jarring, incense-scented Strawberry Alarm Clock wake-up call. That straightforward psych-rock freakout quickly gives way to a series of mercurial compositions. The plaintive “Yet Again” takes a moody, piano-based lament that could almost be mistaken for a Coldplay ballad and elevates it—through fractured vocal effects, circuitous structures, and unresolved melodies—into something weird and heavenly, while “A Simple Answer” is Rufus Wainwright’s “April Fools” on acid.
There’s such a muchness to these arrangements—more, even, than on Veckatimest—that it can be hard to catch your breath, especially when the band’s meandering jams send their tunes sprawling out into the abyss. “Endless abundance overflows…. I’m never coming back,” Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen sing, playing vocal tag on the final track. It’s a rush to hear them insist on staying so far out at sea, even when they’ve got such a sizeable crowd
waiting for them on the shore.
Playlist picks: “Sleeping Ute,” “Yet Again,” “A Simple Answer”