Shields - WARP
FILTER Grade: 88%
By Zachary Sniderman; photo by Tom Hines on September 18, 2012
Somewhere in Brooklyn, there is a warm, hazy world populated with moons and open spaces and lovesick gents who can jangle their guitars and slam their pianos and harmonize as a perfect, sad choir. Shields, Grizzly Bear’s fourth, is a marvelous, odd album that occupies those spaces—and more. It’s also the band’s chance to reclaim the sonically rich genre they more or less defined upon their last, 2009’s Veckatimest.
Shields sounds like it might start on the defensive, but the album is an even poppier twist on Grizzly Bear’s echoey soundscapes, layered harmonies and jittery-stop folk beats. The album frequently dips into noise-flecked psychedelia. The purposeful drive and scratch of “Speak in Rounds” sweeps into the deep-sea flutter of “Adelma.” The lovelorn staccato of “Yet Again” crashes into distorted chaos, as if the band were trying to claw out of their own song. Where the breakthrough Veckatimest was more herky-jerky, Shields is less afraid to get foots tapping. This isn’t a bad thing. Stompers like “A Simple Answer” may be structurally straightforward, but time and again it—and every other song—is lifted by masterful orchestration and spot-on production. The keyboards, vocals, basses, pianos, and all manner of other eclectic instruments never crowd the ear but instead syncopate into one another, creating a sense of crescendo rather than cacophony.
In order to write the album, Grizzly Bear’s first in nearly three years, the band needed some time apart. They had plenty of it—with members of the quartet individually contributing to or outright producing albums for Twin Shadow, Fleet Foxes, Dirty Projectors, TV on the Radio and more—though Grizzly Bear aren’t the same without band cohesion. On Shields, they certainly make aims to escape the ghost of Veckatimest’s success, however as much as they try to run, vestiges pop up here and there: Daniel Rossen hasn’t stopped punching his electric piano, lead signer Ed Droste owns the saddest upper range in the game, and there’s still that same sense that the instruments—sometimes brass and woodwind played by Chris Taylor, always Christopher Bear’s signature, universe-occupying percussion—are being carried over open plains. But while the band remembers their roots, Shields is different; an album more overtly accessible, with songs that cover loss, love, romance and fate and that include lyrics like, “In the cradle of my unruly chest you belong / Take it as it is / Make another fist / Understand love just once how to be alone.”
Early on, Grizzly Bear unassumingly declared themselves as the reigning kings of a certain sound, a forlorn folk touched with electronic flourishes and a vintage sense of melody and lyricism. It’s an organic sound and one that has been aped (sometimes successfully) by a pack of peers avidly reaching for the crown during Grizzly Bear’s three-year hibernation. But here, the band has returned from the cold with a tight, extraordinary album that is lush and satisfying—yet still in the corners just a little bit sad.