Grizzly Bear - Shields

It’s not to say that the Album Of The Week selection for this second week of September has always been a foregone conclusion. This slate on September 18th is actually full of great efforts by a broad set of worthy artists, all situated in the upper echelon of their respective niches — see the laptop-enabled R&B redux of How To Dress Well’s Total Loss, the tenth set from evergreen fuzzbox titans Dinosaur Jr and their I Bet On Sky, and the Killers’ bold and artful widescreen mainstream American rock record Battle Born. But while it is worth noting that Grizzly Bear is sort of the hometeam around here, it’s also equally important to note that being the hometeam in a town that’s quick to spot slippage is unenviable. On some other week, or on this one with a weaker showing from Grizzly Bear, those aforementioned records could easily have won this slot; as you all well know from our Comment Party last week, though, there’s only room for one record today. Shields is officially out now, and Grizzly Bear’s fourth full-length is in a league with this year’s finest. 2012 isn’t done so we’ll shelve the AOTY talk, aside from stipulating that the shortlist just got one entry longer. Instead let’s focus on the myriad mechanics that make this the case.

As both an art piece and a product, Shields is masterfully executed. There was the roll-out, which conformed expectations around the progged-out and knotty “Sleeping Ute” before drizzling the album’s most honeyed Droste-pop moment “Yet Again,” both of which helped calibrate the record’s polarities. Then there’s the tracklist’s twin pop-pillars in the aforementioned “Yet Again” coupled with Dan Rossen’s own ace turn in the propulsive, instantly memorable, sure-to-be-a-single “A Simple Answer,” important check boxes analogous to Veckatimest’s supreme entry points “Two Weeks” and “While You Wait For The Others.” In fact, that’s a lesson and a blueprint wisely learned by the success of Veckatimest: make sure your pair of celebrated songwriters each have their immediately alluring pop gem, because it makes promotion easier.

But the great joy of Shields is that it is nowhere near as dualistic and polarized as all of that might suggest, and as Veckatimest sometimes felt. Shields plays like a truly collaborative effort, the product of a band blessed by four musicians with distinct voices and great aesthetic curiosity — independently prolific when not creating together — finding an unlikely but completely organic common ground between rock, jazz, folk, symphonic accouterment, electronic experimentalism, and avant grandiosity.

In that way, Shields recalls what Grizzly Bear did so remarkably on Yellow House, despite being a louder, crazier, poppier collection. Yellow House was immersive and transportive, a series of interconnected, sepia-toned suites, rather than playing like the set of discrete songs helmed by their respective writers that Veckatimest could be. Similarly, the ideas in Shields are stitched into a tapestry that methodically capitalizes on the band members’ divergent interests: hear the way the ’70s classic rock of “Speak In Rounds” seamlessly dips into the warped electronic weirdness that then becomes “Adelma,” a sound experiment and mood-setter probably helmed by bassist/string-and-woodwind-arranger/producer Chris Taylor, whose CANT project (and other production work) it echoes. Or hear the way the ’70s play into the overarching genre mesh in spades, via Fleetwood Mac and “Speak In Rounds” and also via the Gerry Rafferty-intoning yacht rock showcase “Gun-Shy.” Or hear the way jazz figures into the brew, more potently than ever before, via “What’s Wrong” and “Sun In Your Eyes,” the album’s pair of scenery-chewing epics, both of which lean heavily (and uncoincidentally) on Chris Bear’s ride cymbal patterns and drum filigree. Bear studied jazz drumset during his time at band’s alma mater NYU, and while his adherence to those techniques have always given Grizzly Bear’s brand of bombast a certain polyrhythmic elegance, let’s credit him with the patient, sparse exeunt to “Wrong” and the overtly Lynchian, noir-jazz feel to the set-closing epic “Sun.” As an album closer, it’s a departure for Grizzly Bear: not the depressing goodbye kiss, rather a rousing stew of all the sounds and inflections that make a Grizzly Bear song sound like them, and like nobody else.

In that way, Shields is not a radical transformation of the band’s template, but it is an absolute, studied, and pitch-perfect evolution. Grizzly Bear’s not just creating songs with indelible melodies and reference points, but informing them with experience. Yellow House was a compositional journey that only hinted at formalistic songwriting accumen with the sublime nugget “Knife”; Veckatimest left the nest, and the mesh, for the more song-oriented, less-curated Dan-then-Ed blueprint. Shields cherrypicks the finest elements of both, and accomplishes that middle ground between song and texture by paying close attention to the recording and mix. In fact, mixer Michael Brauer’s done important work on Shields, carving space for the peripheral instrumental abstractions, giving them room to breathe and exist and inform the tenor of these songs’ core. You can hear everything, it’s all louder and somehow punchier, too.

Shields is the first truly balanced Grizzly Bear album. Balanced between Dan and Ed in terms of vocal performance (to the point that, on “Sun,” they are practically trading vocals, which is a first) and of vibe, where Ed is the bittersweet pop side and Dan is the frayed and world-weary dust-kicker. Shields the most confident Grizzly Bear album: charged and intense, less tender yet more nuanced and empathetic. (For this, compare the Droste ballad “The Hunt” to its relatively exaggerated predecessor “Foreground.”) Lyrically it’s the toughest, the most lived-in, and the most existential, all about taking it “as it is” and making “each step worth the regret.” It’s a deft blend, it’s aging in a barrel: Where Yellow House was sepia and Veckatimest was a more blocky set of colors, Shields reflects a continuum, working an entire palette of stylistic hues into an edited, ten-song spectrum. You could skip around Veckatimest; Shields also functions jointly and severally, but you don’t want do to that.

All of this gets back to that masterful execution, that sense that this is a band that understands its product, a notion maybe best represented with this album’s cover: artist Richard Diebenkorn’s demented spade, maybe standing for the penetrating, somewhat combative aspects to this album’s lyrics, an image rendered with a lopsided clarity and the subtle psychedelia inherent in taking a well known object and twisting it just enough to unsettle and demand repeated looks, and a new level of engagement. Or maybe it’s just a great looking spade and they like playing cards? It’s perfect either in either case.

Shields is out now via Warp, and it is very good.

Comments (50)
  1. Local H was robbed

  2. I really like ‘Adelma’. It reminds me of something from a Brian Eno ambient record. I guess I don’t see the “70s classic rock” in “Speak In Rounds” though.

  3. There are some really awesome songs on this record but I don’t think its an album everyone should be losing their minds over…. Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear & Beach House all put out albums comfortably in their comfort zones and they all deserve to be looked at for what they are. An artist’s past body of work does not make their future work perfect no matter what the status quo says

    This is a 7.5 at best, not a 9.1. And don’t mistake me because i really do love this band more than any other but this album felt uninspired and showy where their previous two felt flawless and effortless. Albums like Channel: Orange, Swing Lo Magellan and from what I’ve heard of Lonerism have set a very high bar for music this year. This just didn’t do it for me

  4. Gotta admit I was rooting for “Moms” by Menomena. It would have had to be by default because of a previous “Shields” write up, but still…

  5. This album is amazing and transcendant as we all know by now, but has anyone checked out Carly Rae Jepsen’s album? As far as pop albums go, it’s definitely on the shortlist for best one of the year.

  6. Great review, love this album. However, is it just me or have people been slightly too-critical of Veckatamist in light of the recent album? I’ve seen it described as having skippable tracks a few times (in comparison to Shields), but I feel that that detracts from how great that album was AS WELL. :)

    • I don’t think the intention was to say that Veckatimest had skippable tracks (which it does not), but that there often was the impulse to skip around while listening to the album probably due to the fact that Two Weeks, Ready, Able, While You Wait etc are much more immediate and instantly gratifying than Cheerleader, Dory, Fine For Now etc…but anyone who spent good time with the record knows that all of those songs are incredibly artful.

      • That’s a good point and that probably covers some of the negative retrospect (negtrospect), but there are still some people (like the person below who said Veckatamist had a ‘sagging middle’) who insinuate that Veckatmist wasn’t a great ‘album’ even if it had great songs or vice versa. If you know what I mean?

  7. Michael_  |   Posted on Sep 18th, 2012 +3

    I enjoy this album, I really do, and this week was another great fall release week. Seeing as though the rest of this week’s notable releases aren’t mentioned, I’m going to throw this one into the ring as my personal fav:

  8. It’s their best to me. Veckatimest had a sagging middle, but this is consistently – straight through, top to bottom, start to finish, excellent.

  9. I prefer it to Veckatimest too. For me thus far, it’s my favorite album of the year. We’ll see how the rest of the year’s releases fare. Great write up!

  10. How To Dress Well – “Total Loss” is really, really good.

    SO is Shields, but yeah, Mr. Krell made some IMPROVEMENTS on his new album.

    • That was actually my pick for this week; I got voted down. But yeah, Krell done made a leap there; it’s a serious piece of work.

      • Would’ve been a stellar pick.

        Was showing the album to my sister yesterday in the car. We were leaving the record store with the windows rolled down and she was holding her hands out the car like she was in a roller coaster while we listened to “& It Was U” — that song is one of my favorites of the year now. Also my sister is cray :P

    • I second both these sentiments, my favorite album this week.

      Though something could be said about the similar leap GB made from Horn of Plenty to Yellow House and the one Tom has made from Love Remains to Total Loss and the joy I get from imagining him continuing to grow and perfect his sound as GB have done over their career.

      Great stuff from both of them!

  11. Out of all Grizzly Bear albums…

  12. Sun in your eyes is a masterpiece.

  13. There were so many high profile albums released this week…and grizzly bear deserves every inch of this win

  14. Good choice

  15. If I were picking an album on the week, I’d have a real hard time deciding between Shields and I Bet on Sky. For most people I believe it’d be a no-brainer (Grizbear), and I totally get it. It’s a solid record. But…c’mon. J fuckin’ MASCIS. Yeah, I don’t care that you can hardly tell Dinosaur Jr. records apart and this one is no different, but every time he busts a solo after mumbling at me, I look at my friends like “DID YOU HEAR THAT? NO SRSLY DID YOU?”

  16. Shields is on some next level shizz. Sun in your eyes, as has been addressed many times is THE pantaloon jazz, the mayor of decetown, the titttybanger himself. It is totes, totes, totes GORG’ x 10000.

    Sometimes, when the mood strikes me, and I’m feeling the warm glow of a few Mill Street Org’s, I like to throw on ol gun-shy and just let those last 3 take me first class on the SS Dinky Delight – direct flight to tittyville. What a treat. I’m gonna buy THE HELL out of this album as soon as it is most convenient.

    • like, when it’s gonna cost you 5 bucks on cd ?

    • My name is Daniel Rossen, I’m the Mayor of Decetown.

      Fun note: the vinyl is broken down with 4 songs on Side A, 3 songs on Side B, 2 songs on Side C and then 1 song on Side D.

      So the D-titties Holy Trinity album closer gets its own vinyl. One vinyl, 3 songs. Pre-tay, pretty dece.

      • RJC is on the watertower of decetown. most famous member (pun).

        also in decetown the watertower is actually called the sementower for reasons I don’t have to explain (full of semen) because d-titty is the city planner of decetown and it’s not his job to justify every decision that’s made for this great city of ours. If that’s that shit you don’t like then feel free to move to shitville.

        anyway, this album is certified pantaloon-jazzing (RJC, 2012). it’s preeeeetay, preeeetay, preeety good. pretty good.

        • Decetown Watertower filled to the brim by local famous member. (I get it)

          Also, and why not mention this in a random reply, doesn’t Ed & Daniel swap vocals on “A Simple Answer” ? Well, not really swap, but Ed hops in there at the end. This write-up points out “Sun In Your Eyes” was the first time they were swapping vocals.

          No matter, no matter. “A Simple Answer” SHOULD be the next single. Then we’ll all just huddle around and talk about how much we love “Sun In Your Eyes”

          • RJC, you and I are both on the same watertower as far as how the grizzles need to get their beastie on for next album, and that goes for ye and jay on the next watch the thray (k?)

            A Simple Answer is SUCH a jam. sun in your eyes though, is just, like, mamacita. Downloaded how to dress like a boss on your word as well – looking forward to getting a look into your pleasures – i’m gettin weird today.

            see you tomorrow,
            - dtowns

      • Love that ‘sun in your eyes’ gets its own side.

    • i registered for an account specifically so i could vote up this comment

  17. I have scarcely been as excited to see a band as I am for these guys on Saturday in Boston. Day before my birfday!

    My buddy was all “yo I bought some tickets to GrizzBear on Saturday” and I’m all:

  18. If only I could see them in Atlanta on Monday :(

    Oh well I can take solace that I just don’t want to listen to new music for a while because that means I have to stop listening to Shields. And if I stop listening to Shields the others win.

    Do you want the others to win?

  19. What really Bugs me is music journalist that feel the need to use all the huge, elaborate words to describe the bands albums and songs. It is completely ridiculous. For the average reader these days this review would seem like it’s in another language. It is so dramatic and very elites . As if the reviewer is some snob music listener that thinks he is a bigger fan of music then the next person because they can say things like, “divergent interests” and “polyrhythmic elegance” If you ever read any books or blogs from bands themselves – they don’t use these kinds of words. So why do journalists (if that’s what you want to call them” feel the need to make everything sound so melodramatic. It needs to stop.

  20. this the best of the year, still

  21. Listen twice. Did not get any groove. Have they changes?

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