Newcomers to the Grizzly Bear world (or should that be bearpit?) reading the flurry of reviews of "Shields" over the last week might be justified in thinking that this is the release which signifies the band's transformation from restless time-shifters to purveyors of a more languid, pastoral sound, steeped in the heritage of Americana (or from Dirty Projectors to Fleet Foxes, to mention two bands with whom Grizzly bear are often compared).
The reality is, inevitably, more interesting and complex. For all the protests of long term fans that certain songs sound like Coldplay, GB were always more accessible and less obviously cerebral than a number of their contemporaries as evident on previous albums "Yellow House" and "Veckatimest". Indeed a number of people have described "Shields" as less immediate than its predecessor and a "grower" while to my mind, at least, it is a refinement and crystallisation of the band's art. The sound is still subtle but more muscular in an utterly non bombastic way. Opener "Sleeping Ute" has a rhythmic snap which throws a nod to early Talking Heads or Wire but with the sheen of Mercury Rev's "Deserter Songs" or Beck's "Sea Change". The guitars on "Yet Again" still have the texture before but seem to sparkle more brightly and complement Ed Droste's wistful, sepia-toned voice.
Towards the end, "Shields" threatens to become a bit too "The Long and Winding Road" before the intriguing closer "Sun In Your Eyes" summon up the spirit of Plush's "More You Becomes You" and High Llamas' "Gideon Gaye". In short, while "Shields" is not quite worthy of the prominence in end of year polls that some are predicting, it shows the paucity of ambition of much contemporary music in the States and the UK and deserves to catapult Grizzly Bear into the public consciousness. Recommended.