The initial moments of "Sleeping Ute" are so quintessentially Grizzly Bear, they almost have no impact — Daniel Rossen nurses jagged, staggering chords on an electric guitar likely purchased from a 12th-century pawn shop. Then something weird happens: the sleepiness erupts into psychedelic blaxploitation soul, with huge wallops of wah-wah cascading over ominous synths and drunken drum-kit stumbles. Veckatimest, the quartet's third studio album, was indisputably gorgeous — but that beauty was so refined, so calculated, it sometimes kept an emotional roadblock between listener and band. On the more visceral Shields, Grizzly Bear get a little weirder, a little synthier, a little grizzlier. Veckatimest felt like a 50/50 split between Rossen's literate folk-prog and Ed Droste's sensitive, textured psych-pop, sequenced as a sonic tug-of-war. On Shields, they achieve a fluid synthesis: Rossen and Droste still share vocal duties, but they often tag-team the same track, trading off lines and writing melodies for one another's voices. Their styles coalesce so smoothly, it's often difficult to tell where one singer-songwriter starts and the other ends. "Speak in Rounds" begins as a Droste-led exercise in sleek, modern restraint, with soulful vocal melodies wafting over Christopher Bear's deadened, tribal tom-toms. Then Rossen's shimmering acoustics strum in and steal the show, culminating in a fuzzy, punk-ish clatter of horns and cymbals. "Gun-shy" is a sonic marvel, with an endless supply of headphone-worthy details: Rossen and Droste trading druggy vocal lines, a psychedelic dialogue between slide guitar and synth, triangles and shakers percolating over Bear's booming bass drum. "Looking back and forth, turn around," Droste croons over creaking, minimalist soundscapes on piano ballad "The Hunt," "One that makes no sense but feels good anyhow." In a way, it's the perfect summary of Shields' thrilling, idiosyncratic sprawl.
SEE THEM LIVE: Grizzly Bear + Unknown Mortal Orchestra | The Orpheum, 1 Hamilton Place, Boston | September 22 @ 8 pm, All Ages, $33.50 | 617.482.0106