Grizzly Bear's fourth album "Shields" is one to work at and stick with. On first listens it's all a bit complex, fussy, unsettling and wayward. There is no Beach Boys style pure pop such as "Two Weeks" to draw you in, or razor sharp indie rock like "The Knife" to play over and over again. The band comprising Daniel Rossen, Ed Droste, Chris Taylor and Chris Bear decamped to Texas in an abandoned military base and were fed musically on an eclectic diet of rap and Talk Talk's magnificent "Laughing Stock'. The latter is an album which creeps up on you by revealing more of itself on every listen like a musical striptease and it's pleasing to report that "Shields" plays a similar waiting game to the new listener. The opener "Sleeping Ute" has been around the music blogs as much as Sir Chris Hoy has covered the Olympic velodrome track. It is because of this that what would sound like a strange start now seems so familiar. Its swirling psychedelia with a heavy pop slant for some reason reminds this reviewer of a 10cc song that is about to spontaneously combust. It punches and rages until 3 minutes in it turns into a flowing Spanish sounding acoustic ballad with a lovely Droste vocal. This album is all about layers and the free flowing "Speak in rounds" has so much going on in the background that the listener struggles mentally to pick up its different parts. But then it clicks and all of a sudden its one of the albums best tracks.
More pop orientated but by equally demanding are songs such as "Yet Again" where Droste starts off with the big claim "Yet again we're the only ones/no surprise this is often how it's done". This is no idle boast for its hard to think of many bands that plough this particular furrow which at its best can be completely compelling. "The hunt" for example is a beautiful ballad but its structures are angular and background instrumentation often jarring. Much more straightforward is the excellent "A Simple answer" which shows that sometimes the more stripped down Grizzly Bear has more to offer than the complex Grizzly Bear. In this respect quite why the dreary instrumental "Adelma" is present is a mystery but it only lasts a minute so a small complaint. It is interesting that their counterparts/rivals the Animal Collective have a song "Today's supernatural" on their new album "Centipede Hz" which owes a debt to the French pop masters "Phoenix", and in the track "Gun-shy" easily the most accessible track on the album Grizzly Bear has performed a matching exercise of dreamy introspection. The best, however, is saved to last firstly with the rolling chamber music of "Half Gate" which has a huge cinematic feel which builds to a big swirling finale. Finally, nothing else on the album comes close to the sheer perfection that is the last song on Shields; the seven-minute-plus "Sun in your eyes". In the same way that "Foreground" provided a suitable climax to "Veckatimest" this follows the format of a slowly building piano ballad but it is populated with high octane choruses and unusual time signatures that pull it out of shape. By 4.30 minutes it seems to mutate into a different piece of music that soars to a massive climax and reintroduces the hook "Stretched out, fallen wide/The light has scorched the same/So bright, so long/I'm never coming back" where Droste literally sings his heart out until it gently fades.
There remains a nagging doubt that Grizzly Bears masterpiece is yet to come. But the point of "Shields" is to present an album which is populated by staging posts of sheer sublime beauty but which often requires travel on densely populated harmonic paths and byways to reach this satisfying destination. Should you choose to accept the journey the rewards are rich since Grizzly Bear again prove their impeccable credentials as a fiercely independent band and "Shields" is one of their most memorable collections.
I'm not gonna pull any punches on this one, Grizzly Bears fourth studio album is an unmitigated triumph! A bounty of immaculate pleasures of earth shattering transcendence and just about the best gosh darn album I've heard all year. The pristine detail and expansive orchestration on Veckatimest is basically ripped apart and frenetically reassembled on Shields, with drums that are more clattering, guitars that ring with a greater insistence and a multiplicity of other instruments that are forcefully used to generate a truck load of indomitable impact.
On opener "Sleeping Ute" the cavernous resonance of Veckatimest is brilliantly paired with the otherworldly dreaminess of Yellow house to re-imagine the two in stunning Technicolor. Its Flailing cymbal splashes, unidentified electronica and chugging guitar chords delightfully introduce the song and Daniel Rossen's impeccable fingerpicking brings it to a serene finish. It's rare that a song can undergo so many twists and turns without disappearing into sea of formless confusion, but Grizzly Bear make it look so easy on "sleeping ute" and practically repeat the process 8 more times on shields to prove how well their chaotically complex approach can be adapted into writing memorable songs.
"Yet Again" places angular guitars, propelling Harmonies and a loose drum fill into an inimatable pop format, before cathartically exploding itself at the 4.30 mark. "Whats Wrong" blends Cool Jazz and folk rock so seamlessly you'd have thought the two genres were seperated at birth and "A Simple Answer" juggles a "Linus and Lucy-esque" piano refrain whilst stacking Rossen's gorgeous croon, synths, busy guitar, harmonies and even a frickin saxophone at one point. For those of you with high blood pressure, rest assured their are Quieter moments to be found on Shields too. "Adelma" offers a nice palette cleansing instrumental and "The Hunt" provides some of the rustic warmth and graceful restraint that brightly emanated from Yellow House.
Two of the albums most ambitious tracks come right at the very end on shields to set up an engrossing grand finale of superlative splendour. "Half Gate" is a rickety behemoth that gives way to Colin stetson-esque cacophany and orchesthral bliss, the opening lines "Pass The Rolling Shore, I have Nothing Left To Hear" perhaps succintly summing up the albums all encompassing feel. And then their's "Sun In Your Eyes" a 7 minute beauty of swooning horns, forlorn piano, irrepressable drumming and an ingenius use of space that recalls Talk Talk's post rock masterpiece Laughing stock. I have nothing left to offer, except to say BUY THIS ALBUM! it really is something special.
I won't be as eloquent as the reviews already posted, but just to be short and sweet -it's brilliant.
I picked up Veckatamist a few years back but despite my trying I just couldn't get into the sound, but this album draws you in from the outside. Stunning tracks, the highlights for me being Yet Again and A Simple Answer.
Not wanting to sound too precious about it, but I don't think I fet this emotionally blown away by the music since Bon Iver's last. Damn, too late.
I have to say I loved this album from the jangly opening bars of Sleeping Ute. With their percussive guitar led indie rock style, beautifully produced to give a rich, textured sound that isn't instantly accessible but strangely compelling, it's a good listen first time around, and a great one second time around when you start to delve deeper into the songs. A bit of a classic, 4 stars.
Newcomers to the Grizzly Bear world (or should that be bearpit?) reading the flurry of reviews of "Shields" over the last week might be justified in thinking that this is the release which signifies the band's transformation from restless time-shifters to purveyors of a more languid, pastoral sound, steeped in the heritage of Americana (or from Dirty Projectors to Fleet Foxes, to mention two bands with whom Grizzly bear are often compared).
The reality is, inevitably, more interesting and complex. For all the protests of long term fans that certain songs sound like Coldplay, GB were always more accessible and less obviously cerebral than a number of their contemporaries as evident on previous albums "Yellow House" and "Veckatimest". Indeed a number of people have described "Shields" as less immediate than its predecessor and a "grower" while to my mind, at least, it is a refinement and crystallisation of the band's art. The sound is still subtle but more muscular in an utterly non bombastic way. Opener "Sleeping Ute" has a rhythmic snap which throws a nod to early Talking Heads or Wire but with the sheen of Mercury Rev's "Deserter Songs" or Beck's "Sea Change". The guitars on "Yet Again" still have the texture before but seem to sparkle more brightly and complement Ed Droste's wistful, sepia-toned voice.
Towards the end, "Shields" threatens to become a bit too "The Long and Winding Road" before the intriguing closer "Sun In Your Eyes" summon up the spirit of Plush's "More You Becomes You" and High Llamas' "Gideon Gaye". In short, while "Shields" is not quite worthy of the prominence in end of year polls that some are predicting, it shows the paucity of ambition of much contemporary music in the States and the UK and deserves to catapult Grizzly Bear into the public consciousness. Recommended.