Brooklyn, New York. The Big Apple’s answer to the hipster heaven of East London is a hotbed of musical output, birthing groups from The Strokes to Yeasayer, Interpol to Vampire Weekend. Grizzly Bear, another group of the borough’s musical sons, haven’t released a record since 2009’s acclaimed Veckatimest, and after a relatively lengthy delay, much is expected of new LP Shields.
The success of any album-after-the-album release will always ultimately be measured against its predecessor; many will go back and listen to ‘Two Weeks’ or ‘While You Wait For The Others’ and expect every song on Shields to match these, or their own personal favourite from Veckatimest. Yet to simplify GB’s new release as simply a kind of follow-up is to do it a disservice, as Shields succeeds on its own merits, rather than being dragged limply along on the coattails of goodwill generated by Veckatimest.
Opener ‘Sleeping Ute’ was the first track from the album released (via GB’s website) and its mix of Pink Floyd guitar arrhythmia, swinging backbeat and stark electronic interruptions is an excellent taster of what’s to come. Breaking down into a folky finale filled with cascading guitar chords, it offers a snapshot of the peculiarly catchy electric melodies and mellower acoustic tones which characterise the record. ‘Speak In Rounds’, the excellent track which follows, adheres to similarly successful principles.
Single ‘Yet Again’, a dead cert to be the most popular track on the album, is the standout, its echoey riffs and toe-tapping insistence creating a joyously swift 5-minute hit. It’s frequently possible to hear a rattling piano alongside the stylish synths, an electro-acoustic combination emblematic of Shields as a whole. The Brooklyn foursome are in their element; Chris Taylor’s sliding bass riffs and Christopher Bear’s unshowily effective drumming pinning together the sound as lead singers Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen’s voices drift smokily over the track, before jagged guitars take over and usher in the cacophonous final moments.
Yet Shields isn’t quite the wondrous album these high points indicate was possible. When the band swings into full electro-dream-pop mode (‘A Simple Answer’, the excellent ‘Gun-Shy’) they’re irrepressible, but there are too many sonic peaks and troughs – both in quality and volume – to make it an entirely comfortable, fluid listen. ‘The Hunt’ noticeably plods – especially given its location between ‘Yet Again’ and ‘A Simple Answer’ – while large parts of ‘What’s Wrong’ sound like the soundtrack to a silent murder mystery film. Closer ‘Sun In Your Eyes’ is let down by a somewhat jarring chorus, and at 7 minutes outstays its welcome by 120 seconds at least.
Is all this to say that Shields is a letdown? Not at all. There’s more than enough here to interest the brain, the feet, and most things in between. At its best it sounds like a cross-pollenation of Local Natives and Beach House, with less chaos than the former but more drive than the latter. Some tracks will stay with you, but others you are happy to leave where they are.