Nov 09, 2012, 08:11AM

Grizzly Bear's OK Computer Moment

On their new album, Shields.

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After Grizzly Bear’s last release, the acclaimed Veckatimest, the band took some time off to regroup. Some members formed side projects while others left the mindset of music-making altogether. When they gathered to record Shields, a backstory had emerged that they were working along the same path as indie-rock royalty Radiohead circa OK Computer, a band as poised to continue producing brilliant music as they were to implode from the sacrifices of relentless self-promotion and touring.

Shields feels like a visual journey through a roadway of complex emotions, its narration democratically carried out by musicians cautiously over-listening for the details in their own playing. More so any of their previous works it is this money-in-the-bank approach that successfully guides the bigger sonic picture. Tracks such as “Half Gate” and “Gun-Shy” create a symphonic world that other big-ticket indie bands like Interpol have only been able to hint at. “A Simple Answer” is typical on this album; a rock and roll piano rolls out on a Western plane which intersects into the decrepit alley of a crumbling neon-lit metropolis over the course of five minutes. While it’s true that most tracks on Shields are characterized by long play times, slick compositional shifts, and a nearly Rodgers and Hammerstein-esque level of emotional drama the record evades the tricky straits that often lead to indulgent self-parody.

Had the focus been on final concept as opposed to individual textural details, tracks such as “What’s Wrong” wouldn’t sound as triumphant as they do, a lost Sgt. Pepper’s-era Beatles gem whose organ creeps around a jazz arrangement. “Adelma” is the most unexpected moment on the record, sounding more Apollo soundtracks-era Brian Eno than Grizzly Bear. Arguably, clocking in as it does at a minute, the band gets quickly to business after it, nearly shaping it as a non-event.

Though Shields does at times lean towards minutiae that hint at more experimental future, the band doesn’t completely shed its skin as a rock band. On the contrary, guitar-driven tracks such as “Sleeping Ute” and “Yet Again” speak as powerfully as anything in their catalog, emerging as gorgeous spaghetti Western’s complete with reverb-soaked guitar that vibrate on the same emotional realm as Joshua Tree-era U2. One imagines that these tracks in particular will serve the band well live, easing new fans into some of the more obscure moments of a record that is, on the whole, well-executed.


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