For reasons that remain unknown to me, I never really gave Grizzly Bear’s new album Shields much of a chance. I did the same thing with Veckatimest and was similarly rewarded when I finally relented and just gave it a proper listen. I can see myself getting so much more out of Shields though. I initially thought it sounded way too similar to Veckatimest, based on the opening 10 seconds anyway, but now I see how insanely, ridiculously, incalculably wrong I was. It is so much more ambitious than I gave them credit for.
It seems to be a thing nowadays for bands to go all electro-y once they break through. I like that this is a thing. It’s not a thing I would have expected to work for Grizzly Bear, or for them to even do, but my god does it work. It works so goddamn hard. Take A Simple Answer, it starts off definitively Grizzly – all pianos and rolling, rollicking tunes and neat vocal harmonies. It sounds strange though, slightly fuzzier or something, and then all of a sudden those pianos become distant and watery and, wait, is that sax? This song has just spun off in all these weird directions but it’s still totally Grizzly Bear. How have they done this? They’ve taken the weird piano of Don’t Go Near The Water by the Beach Boys, dropped some Krautrock-esque drums in and thrown in some sax and somehow it all sounds so, weirdly, natural. Then, as is also increasingly a thing, there’s the slowdown into atmospherics and the slow build and then the sudden wave of synth. James Blake did the same thing yesterday on Retrograde and it was similarly wonderful. This is a different beast, less harsh and more eerily beautiful, more strangely 70s sci-fi or something.
Something about the whole album, and perhaps this song in particular, seems very 70s. For some reason something about it makes me think they’ve been hitting up some Steely Dan and some Eagles and then mixing in some Doctor Who and Can or something. Maybe some Bowie too. All that musical wonder is laced over a typically great vocal performance and lyrics that are just covered in apathy, which I love. The refrain of ‘No wrong or right, just do whatever you like’ over that wailing synth is somehow just totally perfect. The vocals in that section in particular are perhaps as good as they are anywhere else on the album – the tone and the cool distance of the delivery is just wonderful.
One of my problems with Grizzly Bear’s last album was always that it never sounded like anything new. It was distinctive but unoriginal. On A Simple Answer, Shields in general, they finally sound unique, and it’s bloody great.