Brooklyn quartet Grizzly Bear can justifiably lay claim to the title 'hippest band on the planet' right now. Since the release of their critically acclaimed third album Veckatimest in 2009, they have been celebrated far and wide, gaining the endorsement of everyone from Radiohead to (shock horror!) Beyoncé. Their music has featured on a TV advertisement for one of the world's biggest car manufacturers, a sure-fire sign that levels of hipness have reached critical mass.
Shields hits the record shops this month and already, the plaudits are pouring in, with a slew of glowing reviews greeting its release. All of this is somewhat puzzling, because much like its predecessor, Shields is never more than a slightly interesting, left of centre Rock album, nothing more, nothing less. Moments of blinding brilliance are thin on the ground, with the album leaving no real lasting impression when the last notes have died away.
Grizzly Bear make a kind of adult oriented Indie Rock - it all sounds very grown up and mature. The influence of the Beatles from their Abbey Road period is very much to the fore and as an album, it is inaccessible and oblique in a way that calls to mind Wilco's A Ghost is Born. Standout tracks are few and far between - 'A Simple Answer' is Grizzly Bear at their most melodic and urgent while 'Speak in Rounds' features some nice guitar textures and a rolling drumbeat that keeps things chugging along nicely. The ambitious 'Sun in Your Eyes' closes the album on a relatively high note and you cannot help wondering how much better this album would have been had they shown similar ambition throughout.
For fans of Grizzly Bears previous albums, and those who like to jump the next hip bandwagon that rolls into town, Shields will undoubtedly be touted as a record of some significance. But listened to isolated from the hype that surrounds its release, it is difficult to hear anything more than a solid if unspectacular effort, a case of music's equivalent of the Emperor's New Clothes.
Review by Paul Page