A Little Rough-and-Tumble
Grizzly Bear has come a long way since the days when its maestro Edward Droste was writing songs alone in a bedroom somewhere in Brooklyn. The band has grown from album to album, both in numbers and musical talent. Shields, the band’s fourth studio album, continues this trajectory, following up on the runaway success of 2009’s Veckatimest. While Shields has its origins in the maritime Cape Cod landscape, like several of the band’s previous outputs, the album exerts a charged energy unlike the dreamy, pastorals that have come before.
“Sleeping Out” begins with a retro guitar riff amid subtle horns and crashes of percussion that you could almost swear came from an old Led Zeppelin recording. Melodic vocals and classical guitar add rich tones in the bridge, varying the song’s texture. It creates a definitive theme for the album, as if declaring that this time, Grizzly Bear is acting more like, well, a grizzly bear. The driving force of “Speak in Rounds,” “A Simple Answer,” and “Half Gate” sustain this stylistic move. “Speak in Rounds” is spare when it starts, with just vocals over light percussion and low, droning synths, but an acoustic guitar soon bursts in and charges ahead in a barrage of noise. The bright, rollicking energy of “A Simple Answer” builds upon layered guitar melodies and background vocals, creating a big, prog-rock sound. And besides these rather loud rock songs, there’s the single “Yet Again,” which serves as the perfect combination of Shields‘s new energy and Grizzly Bear’s quintessential baroque sound – retro, reverb-soaked guitar complements sweet tenor vocals and warm piano. While much of the song is predictable and “radio ready,” its ending is surprisingly delightful. It’s instrumental, loud and unrestrained, electrifying and engaging.
Of course, Shields has the kind of complex, aesthetically beautiful songs that became synonymous with Grizzly Bear on earlier albums. Perhaps the best moment of the album is “The Hunt,” where warm, bassy piano chords and rich guitar meld with delicate vocals over light percussion, slowing down to savor the weaving harmonies. “What’s Wrong” features a moody melody on the keys in a kind of meditative, psychedelic jazz tune, where horns and slightly dissonant piano chords give it the feel of an old, old thriller movie.
Grizzly Bear leaves us with “Sun in Your Eyes,” a ballad with sweet vocals and tender percussion. Droste croons, “It overflows, it overflows / It always runs silver inside, in its abundance, overflows,” as the song plunges into a big, crashing chorus. But the song ends with him taking a different message: “So long, I’m never coming back,” he intones, as the piano fades away into silence. Let’s cross our fingers and hope that’s not true.