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Grizzly Bear: Shields
Brooklyn band on a run follow breakthrough with a masterpiece
Craig Fitzpatrick, 02 Oct 2012
There were side projects to get distracted with, rumours of internal squabbling and hints that they found themselves in a creative rut in the recording studio in Texas. Perhaps following a zeitgeist-gobbling, game-changer of an album is always destined to be a difficult task but if the word on the street was anything to go by, Grizzly Bear were making an even bigger meal of it. Well, bugger all that anti-hype: the band have come out the other side with a record that not only lives up to 2009’s Veckatimest but arguably eclipses it. It is an astonishing achievement.
Credit for this must go to founder Ed Droste, who happily shares writing duties far more than ever before. The result is an opening up, both personally and creatively, which is at the heart of the record’s extraordinary appeal. Ideas were worked out communally in Cape Cod, away from the intrusion of city life. Indeed, it sounds like they went to band camp, with different writing pairs teaming up to see what blossomed. The result is a work that hangs together immaculately and reveals more and more of its beauty over time. Long instrumental passages never lose direction, while myriad ideas slot comfortably into the record’s impressive sprawl.
The gnarled, proggy-yet-instant opening riff of ‘Sleeping Ute’ signals something special, as the windy track shifts time-signatures and occasionally breaks for some vocal reflection – “I can’t help myself.” It evokes tidal waves breaking while a Blue Angels flight squadron zooms overhead. By the end of ‘Speak In Rounds’ you’re so submerged in the sound that the brief, early interlude of ‘Adelma’ could be a broadcast from an abandoned submarine. ‘Yet Again’ is an irresistibly lush pop moment where surf music is displaced to Laurel Canyon and from there a patchwork of pastoral folk, jazz, dubby flourishes and math rock come together via the impressive harmonies of Droste and Daniel Rossen.
It all wraps up with the album’s highpoint, the two-part ‘Sun In Your Eyes’, which moves deftly from the intimate to the majestic and back again over seven captivating minutes. Their third album, and the first not named with a nod to geography, Shields is a more open, soul-baring, tender thing than its title suggests. But it comes from a group that sound secure in their talent, protected in their togetherness. They are now one distinct force of nature and if their hive mind keeps ticking over, who knows what they could come up with next? Either way, with Shields they have staked their claim to greatness...