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Album Picks: Grizzly Bear, James Iha, Allah-Las, How to Dress Well, Plus More Albums Out Today

Posted by Billy Gil, September 17, 2012 05:23pm | Post a Comment
Grizzly BearGrizzly Bear – Shields

One of the year’s finest rock albums comes with Grizzly Bear’s Shields, improbably even even more consistent album than 2009’s excellent Veckatimest. Beginning with the soft explosion of “Sleeping Ute,” in which Daniel Rossen sings of his “wanderings dreams” amid regal electric guitars, fluttering synths and acoustics, Chris Taylor’s grounding basslines and Chris Bear’s dynamic drumwork, Shields continues through a back-and-forth between the more immediate pop thrills of Veckatimest and more ambient feel of their older material. “Speak in Rounds” has the same sort of glorious harmonies we heard on “While You Wait for the Others” but with more rock propulsion than the band usually employs. Meanwhile, tracks like the wordless “Adelama” and slowly shuffling “The Hunt” highlight their placid side. But Shields is also a progression of their sound in addition to a refinement of it. “Yet Again” scales back the grabbiness of an older song like “Two Weeks” for a lushly expansive take on the rock single, perhaps showing some influence from Radiohead, with whom they toured a few years back in a dream bill. Similarly extended and confident, “A Simple Answer” is one of Daniel Rossen’s finest showcases to date, building on his typically mysterious melodies to a gratifying, grandiose chorus. An addictive listen, it’s easy to lose yourself in the layers of Shields and find something newly impressive each time.
 
james ihaJames Iha – Look to the Sky
 
Anyone who’s been a big Smashing Pumpkins fan knows the pleasures the Pumpkins’ “George Harrison” could bring with his subtle guitarwork and gorgeous songs like “Go,” “Blew Away” and “Take Me Down.” Fourteen years after his first solo album released while still in the Pumpkins, James Iha is back with a fuller sound that capitalizes both on his folky Neil Young-inspired leanings and his ability to create spectral space rock soundscapes. Both qualities are in full flair on the beautiful “To Who Knows Where,” which features a typically beautiful Iha chorus and an awesome space-folk breakdown in the middle. Classic Pumpkins fans can find plenty to sink their teeth into in songs like “Gemini,” which moves from eerie folk to swoony big-chord rock. Elsewhere, he breaks from his past more decisively, as on the ’60s by way of ’80s pop “Till Next Tuesday” and the addled blues of “Appetite,” moments that show Iha has more tricks up his sleep than at first appears. Some of his folkier tracks veer toward sappy, but Iha’s smart production, learned from the interim years of producing for acts like Cat Power and Isobel Campbell as well as various remixes, usually saves things with orchestral flourishes and surprises like the twinkling synths that pop up at the end of the Karen O duet “Waves.” It’s an assured work that speaks to the talents of Iha as a guitarist, producer and songwriter who knows how to paint wonders from a modest palette.

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