Grizzly Bear - Shields
It comes as no big surprise that the fourth album from the Brooklyn darlings, Grizzly Bear is stunning. Shields moves, coos and breathes in all the right ways. Like a parent seeing that an ultrasound shows that their baby has ten fingers, ten toes and one lovely round head, with every song you feel a sense of relief. Not only is this record as fluid as ever, it shows growth since their 2009 release, Veckatimest, which spawned huge commercial-friendly songs like 'Two Weeks'.
The opening track, 'Sleeping Ute', was also the first single released in June of this year and it affirmed all expectations. As intricate as their music always is with overlapping harmonies, crescendoing verses and urgent guitars, the first single and the album overall deliver a compounded sound. Although on first listen it may not be as instantly enjoyable as 2006's Yellow House, after a few spins its melodic power will overtake you. More upbeat tracks like 'Yet Again', the urgent 'Speaking In Rounds' and 'Gun-Shy' hit the sweet spot immediately and will reverb in your head for days on end.
There is an extra dose of dream pop in this album with so many of its tracks creating an atmosphere so floaty, it will suck up all the gravity around you. The previous three albums were mostly written by founding member Ed Droste, but this time round all four members took an equal share of the songwriting process. In a recent interview with Time Out, Droste addresses the strengthened maturity found on the album. "We're four very strong personalities and the band is a democracy. This album became a more collaborative process just because we matured, worked through stuff, ironed out the kinks," he says.
The democratic approach to the songwriting has added to the diversity of the songs. The minute details and minimal instrumentation seen in 'What's Wrong' are as effective and as powerful as the soaring and very present vocals and clamber in 'Half Gate'. Evaluation of the lyrics, which are, by trademark, often difficult to decipher, shows that there is an anxious air to almost all of the songs. 'Sleeping Ute', has Daniel Rossen taking on lead vocals and seeking solace in solitude: "If I could find peace, if this night bleeds/But I can't help myself." Although there is that misleading rhythm-tingling drum beat in 'Gun-Shy', it continues on this path of solitary reflection and begins with "The sky keeps staring at me/Frozen in a trance" and follows with "The cold keeps tearing at me/Slowing down my blood, unable to speak." For city boys, the nature references are heavy on this LP. As Bon Iver taught us on For Emma, Forever Ago and Sean Penn did with Into The Wild, nothing magnifies loneliness quite like a good outdoor surrounding.
The effect of this album varies between skin-tingling, glassy-eyed, light-hearted from 'A Simple Answer' or thoroughly haunted from 'The Hunt'. Shields has a layered complexity that comes so easy to the band. The seven minute closing track, 'Sun In Your Eyes', is slow-building and climatic. "So long, I'm never coming back" is repeated throughout the song and concludes the album on an extravagant note.
The praise for this album must also be given to their ability to keep up their standard of timeless, mood-enhancing music.