Jagged guitar licks, resounding crescendos, themes of loneliness and melancholy—I know it sounds like Arcade Fire, but these are all components of Grizzly Bear’s newest album “Shields.”
While there is nothing grizzled about this bear of an album, little on “Shields” offers the same immediacy and delight of “Two Weeks,” from their 2009 album “Veckatimest.”
“Veckatimest” represented a major musical shift for the band; the tribal baroque ’n’ roll statement was nothing like the weird psych-folk of 2006’s “Yellow House.” “Shields” does not present a similarly major development for the band. Instead, Grizzly Bear refines and expands on the orchestration of “Veckatimest,” crafting a sequel that does not pack the same punch as its predecessor, but makes an impression nevertheless.
From the roars, crashes and screams of opening song “Sleeping Ute,” the production value of “Shields” shines through. The song rollicks along, driven by—and this is new for Grizzly Bear—their rhythm section. Christopher “Grizzly” Bear dominates “Sleeping Ute” on drums, providing the lively booms that propel the song forward. His absence at the end of the track highlights Daniel Rossen’s lyrics: “And I live to see your face / And I hate to see you go / But I know no other way / Than straight on through the door.”
Grizzly Bear knows many ways to impress, exhibiting an impressive range of sound. The album is not only a testament to the skill of each musician (the touch-and-go dynamics of “Yet Again” reveal as much), but to the diversity that blossoms when such talented musicians hit their stride. The palette of influence on “Shields” stretches from ambient music (“Adelma”) to jazz (the cymbals of “What’s Wrong”) and this exploration of different textures adds up to a surprisingly cohesive record.
It is especially impressive that “Shields” came together as it did , especially considering its paradoxes. Grandiose yet intensely personal, cathartic yet shrouded behind titular shields, the band members wrestle with these tensions throughout the album.
As Edward Droste and Rossen exchange lyrics on “Gun-Shy” between harried drum beats and a grooving bass line, their intimate back-and-forth turns inimical when the anxious Rossen pleads, “A guide that has only led me astray / And even as I limp,” and Droste adds a parenthetical, vaguely threatening “you smile.”
Grizzly Bear’s democratic style of performing in a horizontal line during their live shows may have afforded them a polite and civil reputation, but “Shields” is far from sterile. On the contrary, the band’s precise arrangements give each song a life of its own.
Ultimately, this means the record demands repeated listenings. Like a painting that reveals its secrets only after hours of contemplation, this album’s depth rewards the listeners’ persistence.
At the end of the epic closing song “Sun In Your Eyes,” Rossen declares: “so long, I’m never coming back.” I wouldn’t worry though, Grizzly Bear can’t resist making thought-provoking music that demands serious listening. And, in the meantime, you always have “Shields” to come back to.