The idea of pop avant-gardists Grizzly Bear always made a great deal more sense than the reality. An indie group refracting Brian Wilson-style 1960s pop through a prism of artsy chamber rock sounded like exactly what the tired world of mid 2000s alternative music desperately required.
Alas, the band had a weakness for tinkering as the listener’s attention span wandered. Only with their sublime 2009 single ‘Two Weeks’ — the Beach Boy’s ‘Good Vibrations’ Vulcan minded-melded with a Tom Waits
ballad — did they live up to their billing as smarty-pants studio professors.
In the five years since their last album, Shields, alternative rock has changed beyond recognition — in that, as a genre, it may not even exist any more.
Pop has become music’s most
dynamic force and the too-clever
meanderings of Brooklyn virtuosos have started to look like a closed chapter (which is why recent records by Dirty Projectors, The Antlers, Chairlift etc have sank without
Grizzly Bears’ individual members have meanwhile lived several life-times in the half decade just gone. Singer Ed Droste moved to Los Angeles, divorced his husband and went on the road supporting Bernie Sanders.Bassist Chris Taylor interned in the kitchen of Copenhagen’s acclaimed Noma restaurant and guitarist Daniel Rossen considered giving up music entirely.
None of this has intruded upon Grizzly Bear, who sound more Grizzly Bear-esque than ever on their fifth album (their first for a major label). What has changed is the quartet’s aversion to big pop moments.
‘Three Rings’ channels ‘Two Weeks’ pastoral swirl and ‘Cut Out’ adds
urgency to a familiar formula with subtle funk guitars. The best is saved for last, with the swirling ‘Sky Took Hold’ combining proggy sweep with heart-rending tunefulness.
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