DOUBLE REVIEW: Grizzly Bear + The Presets

So I spent the better part of last week listening to two vastly different albums by GRIZZLY BEAR, and THE PRESETS. In their respective efforts, Shields, and Pacifica what I got was a badly matched pair that revealed, glaringly so, the strengths and weaknesses in each other. Which in turn forced me consider how this effected the pieces I wrote on each. ALBUM REVIEW: Grizzly Bear Shields 

(Purple Sneakers)

After the near-universal acclaim that surrounded Veckatimest three years ago and the harmonious score for Derek Cianfrance’s heart shattering Blue Valentine,GRIZZLY BEAR return with Shields, a charmer of an album that continue to reveal and unravel beyond the first listen.

It is easy to state that Grizzly Bear’s Shields is an album full of ideas. Aesthetically, we have psychedelic flourishes, folk crooning and a jazz sensibility peppered amongst the gorgeous harmonies that pulsates along the hooky and dynamic tracks. While at times there can be a sense that this album veers in many different directions, it is forever fluid; a collection of songs that complement each other beautifully.

With highlights in the likes of ‘Gun Shy,’ ‘A Simple Answer,’ and ‘Yet Again’ Grizzly Bear showcase their vibrant point of view. In ‘Gun Shy’ we get a slow groove, grounded in an airy and restrained guitar performance. Conversely, ‘A Simple Answer’ embraces a layering of sounds that builds and drops as if mimicking a voyage. And then in ‘Yet Again’ we have a strong guitar intro and hooky harmonies that beg to be sung along to.

This is an album that does not take you on a journey so to speak, but fills a space. Grizzly Bear’s layering of sounds swirl and stretch around a listener, chiming and tickling for its duration.

In Shields Grizzly Bear have relished in their creativity, and unity as a band and put forth and undeniably cohesive album of layered and bold tracks that can sit pretty in any indie music lovers collection.

I find this review to be way too wordy and verging on overly pretentious. I feel it ended up like this because there was a something about this album that I loved and just couldn’t figure out what it was. I found this album to have an ease, yet layerers of sounds, and it had a really brilliant flow between tracks with no incongruous placements.

But also, what intrigued me most was the sense of whimsy that seemed to appear throughout. I find this album a really easy, and pleasant listen.

And then I had this:

ALBUM REVIEW: The Presets, Pacifica

(Alphabet Pony)

Pacifica, the third album from iconic Sydney duo The Presets,  is grounded in the Sydney youth culture that the band have been a part of for the better part of a decade. And as such, the troubles and attitudes of youth encompass the thematic bulk of the content.

While the album veers between hard and soft, Pacifica exhibits restraint and a measured calculation that may come to surprise of those who discovered The Presets via the bashful and anthemic war-cries that populated the pair’s previous effort, Apocalypso.

Of all their albums, this is the one where Julian Hamilton and Kim Moyes’ Conservatorium roots are most evident. This is an album of well cooked ideas with precise lyrics, as beats ease in and out of the foreground as a way of exhibiting mood.

This is introduced with a punch in the opening track, and first single of the album, Youth in Trouble. As they warble through lyrics like: Up out all night in bright-lit wonderland/ With a music taste abominable man / I’m worried sick for youth in trouble, the youth are an ill-conceived cultural footnote, and as such the delivery is glazed with fake concern.

Continuing on this theme, there is an ever present sense of doom pulsating in the background. This is explored perfectly in Pacifica’s most controversial track, A.O (Adults Only). Here we are delivered a pastiche-ridden episode where Hamilton chants in Australian twang that is almost cringe-inducing in its ‘Straya-ness’, especially at the line: Monuments to the master/And the dog dark dealings of the backroom bastards.

In amongst all of this dance-dungeon jittering there are the few quiet, and even exuberant, pop numbers. A highlight is Promise, with its overly joyful air and a catchy-as-hell chorus, giving the album one of its brightest shining moments.

As ambitious as Pacifica aims to be, slight problems do arise. While in the first half we are treated to interesting juxtapositions between pace and attitude, there is a sense of ‘same-ness’ that occurs in later tracks. This is especially so with the seemingly forgettable fillers Surrender and Fast Second.

In Pacifica The Presets are all about the slow burn; rarely does a beat come out of nowhere, instead preferring to ease in and consume space and atmosphere. Although not the perfect album, at its heights Pacifica delivers layered and intelligently constructed songs, and a voice that is unlike what the Australian industry has been privy to up until now.

This was a labor of an album. When I did the work and listened to and assessed the lyrics I found it to be almost a noble effort. It was like a novel in its themes of youth, culture and control. These are themes that I am always interested in, and whenever I try to make any work is are theme that I am concerned with. However, I just struggled to enjoy the album in its entirety.

Sure the lyrics are good, but there were just moments when I just found the whole thing a little lame. The beats and the sounds start to feel a little hollow with the production clouding and invading on everything else.

While sure technically this album is very good, and thematically extremity interesting, I guess I just didn’t like it. But how do you write a review about a work that you simple don’t like for no reason other than it is just not your taste?

Words by Luke Letourneau