Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear, a great band, has yet to release a truly great album. Their debut, Yellow House, created a gorgeous aural landscape and had some fine songs, but it's ultimately too fey and sketch-y to hold up as a true classic. Veckatimest, from 2009, had two perfect tracks ("Two Weeks" and "While You Wait for the Others") and a handful of killer chunes ("Southern Point," "All We Ask," and "Ready Able") but the middle section of the record was packed with obvious filler.

This year’s offering, the forgettably titled Shields, despite featuring the best playing and production of any Grizzly Bear record yet, surely won’t crack the top five of Pitchfork’s year end Best Albums list; I bet it won’t even infiltrate the top ten, despite the taste-making website’s obvious cheerleading of the group. The songs on Shields tend to drag on a minute or two longer than they should (the average song length is 5:04) and the vocal melodies, for the most part, aren't memorable. Shields certainly impresses for its sophistication and meticulousness, with careful, complex arrangements and unusual rock chords and song structures, but-- and there's really no other way to say this--it just doesn`t have enough heart. do love these guys, though. We live in an age where we don't even know the names of most of the songs on our iPods, so it's fun to have a band to dig deep into and really care about and this is certainly a band worth caring about. First of all, they are fantastic live. Shields feels a lot like an album written to perform in front of an audience; it's louder, busier, and more dramatic than any of the earlier records, and drummer Chris Bear, the group's not so secret weapon, gets plenty of opportunities to demonstrate his hard-hitting but jazzy prowess. Technical virtuosity is a far greater merit on stage than on record (especially in the still shred-shy world of indie rock) and these guys lack for nothing in that department; the stretched out song lengths are also more forgivable in concert. I've seen them many times, including this year at Massey Hall. With just their dynamics, superior playing, and "holy shit they actually sing that good" harmonies, they do Rock and Roll Communion as well as anyone.

The fan culture around the group seems like a throwback to an older way of appreciating bands; we know the names of every band member, we differentiate between the vocalists and songwriters and fall into either the Ed or the Dan camp, we read the interviews with careful interest and we try to figure out the internal politics based the facial expressions they give each other on stage.

Also, they're ridiculously cute and have amazing band photos.

Still, every time I give Shields another try, I find my mind drifting. It's got some very good moments (opener "Sleeping Ute" is a jazz-rock riffage masterpiece) and works well as background music, but I don't think I'm the only one who thinks we've yet to hear Grizzly Bear's Sgt. Pepper.


Blogger reginag said...

Outstanding music! Unique sound.

7:19 AM  

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