Grizzly Bear – Shields
- By Sam Herbert -
- Sep 21, 2012
How to follow 'Veckatimest?' Grizzly Bear’s breakthrough third album was such a sumptuous exploration of sound that it was critically acclaimed as one of the albums of 2009; the haunting, yearning piano of closing track, ‘Foreground’, is a poignant reminder of their near perfect creation. The song still has the power to stop you in your tracks and leave you in a crumpled heap. And that’s the challenge facing the Brooklyn quartet. How do you trump it?
It was certainly a question they asked themselves in their three year hiatus. Chris Taylor put out a solo LP as 'CANT', Edward Droste went travelling and got married and Daniel Rossen released a solo EP, ‘Silent Hour/Golden Mile.’ On return to Grizzly Bear duties their first efforts were scrapped in their search for a creative dynamic that had gone missing. Something must have clicked as they pained and laboured in Cape Cod, where they recorded 'Veckatimest' and second album, 'Yellow House'. The result of which is 'Shields'.
What’s particularly beguiling about 'Shields' is the use of time and rhythm. The music enthrals with a complexity and depth that is at first out of reach. Yet the layered soundscape entices you back for more listens, appearing within your grasp before being whisked away by a previously unheard chord or string section. The album’s capacity to tantalise is what makes it so charming; like meeting someone new for the first time, the little nuances you pick up on are made that much more powerful.
The four members have a background in classical and jazz, which comes across in the way parts of Shields sound painstakingly structured, where other parts sound free and improvised. ‘What’s Wrong’ being the perfect example; Christopher Bear’s faint drumming accompanied by soft strings delicately crafted at the beginning of the song evolves to searching piano chords and trumpet to close.
It is the ever changing time structures and rhythms that particularly evoke the feelings of a jazz quartet, even if it’s not necessarily obvious. ‘Sleeping Ute’ starts things off with a thunderous clap of drums amidst a pulsing, syncopated guitar riff with random synths and strings coming and going as they please. The track blusters through and then settles with a gentle acoustic coda, as Rossen pleads ‘but I can’t help myself’ over and over again. The dynamic shifts are then emphasised on ‘Speak In Rounds,’ a song not unlike ‘Southern Point’ on Veckatimest, with its chugging guitars and rollicking drums. The song rises and falls, quickens and slows, as the band’s resplendent harmonies (they all sing) hold everything in place.
It is perhaps the bold vocals and aching harmonies that make Grizzly Bear that bit different to other bands. On second single ‘Yet Again’ we’re treated to Droste and Rossen’s melodious vocals, the gloss on an already shimmering song. It’s as close to a traditional indie-pop song that Grizzly Bear will get. ‘Sun In Your Eyes’ ends the album in a gloriously defiant tone. It’s the album’s standout track; a gorgeous, uplifting song which resonates long after the last delicate piano chord is played, prompting the question, what’s next?
Following Veckatimest was never going to be an easy task; setting the bar so high is usually a prelude to being let down. Yet Shields doesn’t disappoint. It lures you in and holds you with its glorious orchestrations and unexpected arrangements and it invites you back with its mournful vocals and deft harmonies. But most importantly it leaves you wanting more.
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