Grizzly Bear has made consistently beautiful indie rock since 2009’s Veckatimest, but Shields shows the band stepping up the compositional complexity for its fourth record.
Right at the start, on “Sleeping Ute,” it’s clear Shields is going to require patience and close attention. Grizzly Bear isn’t giving up an easy hook. Instead, the song is a tangle of musical threads — a ‘70s-style guitar riff, rumbling and splashing drums, electric psychedelic bursts and folksy acoustic guitars at the close.
Then “gun-shy” prods at you; vocals, guitars, synths and drums poke in and out unpredictably at varying volumes. “Speak In Rounds” starts out slow, with a steady bass pulse, then suddenly accelerates with quickly strummed acoustic guitar, then finally amps up the volume with vocal harmonies, electric guitar flourishes and brief moments of horns.
The collective effect is a sense of uneasiness. Nothing ever quite feels resolved, because everything can change so unexpectedly mid-song or even mid-verse. But rather than leaving you irritated, it makes you curious and demands repeated listens to work everything out.
The other lead-off single, “Yet Again,” is much more straightforward. There’s still a lot going on instrumentally, but Droste’s achy voice is allowed to stand out before the whole thing collapses into scattershot percussion and squirmy guitar sounds. “A Simple Answer” is a welcome change of tone, with a punchy rhythm from the drum kit and piano under synthy flourishes and the kind of chord progressions that give music a hopeful feeling.
Both songs are the closest things on the album a catchy, radio-ready hit. Intentionally or not, Grizzly Bear made something more intellectual this time around. Shields is beauty and brains.