Grizzly Bear - Shields | Album Review | By Volume

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Grizzly Bear


Grizzly Bear’s “rock record” is as graceful and intimate as it is superb.

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Author: on September 17, 2012
Warp Records
September 18, 2012

Grizzly Bear have always been an enigma, a band I frequently reflect on as “challenging” while initially spinning their records, but after a fourth or fifth listen settle down at: “best American band working today.” Shields does nothing but further that adoration and zeal at continuing such hyperbole, playing out within an aesthetic of mind-altering chamber pop and off a DIY philosophy. But they did not arrive at this precipice unknowingly. Ever since front man Ed Droste removed himself from the confines of a bedroom to find a quartet of like-minded folks and expanded his music into Yellow House‘s wide-eyed, adventurous pop, the band have been a much different beast than their supdued debut Horn Of Plenty would have led us to believe. Yellow House, as well as daintily wondrous breakout Veckatimest, certainly possessed some of the sense of distant emotion and meandering songcraft that Shields totes, but not with nearly as much fervor. This is Grizzly Bear making a “rock” record, or whatever the fuck that means. Shields is loud, very much so for this band, and while Veckatimest from afar looks like the band’s most “pop” outing to date, I would argue that Shields is in fact the avenue by which Grizzly Bear will be propelled to deserved success.

From the onset of “Sleeping Ute” and its heavy guitar riff, Shields presents itself as a different spectacle. It still has the cascading keys and tunnels of sound, but all these otherwise singularly Grizzly Bear attributes are implemented in one controlled chaos. Still, “Sleeping Ute” is quite tender on the ears – as one would expect from a band so adept at sweeping chamber pop and lush vocal melodies. Come the song’s finale, where we find Droste expressing: “It’s calm and it’s clear / collapsed here on the stone / deliver to this place / a vision dark and cloaked,” awash with delicate finger picks and softly rumbling drums, the band have once again given us ample cushion to rest our heads. Make no mistake: Shields is still very much a veiled journey through a wonderland of cushy-yet-jagged pop music as Grizzly Bear have delivered in the past – yet once more it is distinctly separate from their previous releases and endlessly engrossing.

Strangely enough, Shields also feels like the most intimate release Grizzly Bear have produced. “Shell with another crack / I’m small but I can’t keep track / Too soon, everyone just step away / I’m sure this isn’t the last play,” Droste confesses on “Yet Again”, a curiously uplifting trek through the aftermath of a nasty break-up. And while the song invites you in with a warm bassline, bouncy piano, harmonious vocals and a serene drumbeat, it casts you away again with a legitimate freakout on the part of Droste and guitarist Daniel Rossen, alluding to the song’s defeated lyrics. “Yet Again” is undoubtedly a single (the second, even) but what is most impressive is just how defiantly the band turn, entrancing, from their past, less raucous attempts (see: “Knife,” “Two Weeks,” “While You Wait For The Others”). They simply turn their guitars way the hell up and tune you right in.

“I’m telling you I’m trying / To hear this out / I want nothing more than doubt / A little bit of shame,” Droste intimates to us amongst militaristic toms and a flowing guitar riff on the elegant “Half Gate,” giving yet another inner examination of his perceived turmoil. Yet after every pleasure is “burned to the wick” Droste finds hope within: “I tend to be alone / A quiet picture drawn each day before it ends / To remind me once again / Why I’m even here.” He concludes with Shields‘ true message. Even as the darkness, and this band’s wandering tendencies, may settle, there’s always reprieve to be found within. With their newfound expression through volume, even as the music is at its most forlorn, the tunes never feel laborious or one-dimensional. This could be attributed to the truly communal process they took to writing Shields, but I’d venture more towards it being the mark of a very talented and tested band once again showcasing how much benefit there is to reap by simply never setting yourself limits. Shields speaks to rebirth through downtrodden destruction, never as a heavy-handed cliché, but through effortlessly woven tales and graceful melodies. Shields is truly a gem to be found once the defenses are withdrawn.

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