Grizzly Bear, 'Shields'
By Wesley Jakacki
September 18, 2012
Beautiful harmonies are back in vogue.
While the move toward a more DIY independent music scene has led toward less and less classically beautiful vocalists, a small pocket of indie musicians still exists that, when coupled together, sound pleasant to any ear.
Artists like Fleet Foxes and Feist have gotten love for their purity of pitch and wonderfully elaborate harmonies, but Grizzly Bear, among others (Dirty Projectors, Dr. Dog, St. Vincent), has wrongly missed its due for its beautiful chorale of voices. The three-part harmonies of Edward Droste, Daniel Rossen, and Chris Taylor—three-fourths of Grizzy Bear, with drummer Christopher Bear being the final piece—makes for a swirling symphony of sound, especially when mixed with the imaginative arrangements composed by Droste.
The album opener, “Sleeping Ute,” finds the band awakening the dense chaos it can concoct free from some of its usually rigid production and just ready to rock. “Speak in Rounds” starts ominously behind the murkiness of Droste’s voice before slowly picking up momentum through its relentless churn and increasingly dense arrangement. “A Simple Answer” builds simply on a drunken minor-key piano hook that would be right at home on the brilliant new Fiona Apple record, but it is lifted above the gloom by the whirling guitars, pattering drums and the grandest chorus of the whole album. This track is the most hopeful the album gets.
While occasionally captivating, Shields comes off as a bit drowsy on occasion. “The Hunt” is a creeping ballad that brings Grizzly Bear back to the sound of its 2004 debut Horn of Plenty, well capturing the disillusionment the band often conveys, but the song comes across as just plain sleepy. “What’s Wrong” takes similar effect but hones some lovely back-and-forth between Droste and Rossen with jazz sophistication. “Gun-Shy” continues what started on “What’s Wrong,” with Rossen and Taylor playing the lingering ghost following closely behind Droste’s sun-drenched vocals, but the song lacks that extra zest needed to really pull you in.
“Yet Again” bursts with reverb -drenched surf-rock guitar and finds Droste seeming defeated before finding strength in the chorus—before the darkness again sets in with a spazzed-out guitar solo that closes the song. This closing solo serves as the most dynamic point in Shields, which lacks the drama and theatrics of Veckatimest. Compared to Veckatimest, Shields prefers subtlety and introspection, like it's the shy and sullen brother to the more boisterous Veckatimest.
Ultimately, Grizzly Bear’s music challenges you to look beyond the surface of things that appear pretty or pristine, reminding us that we should always challenge the morality of things, regardless of origin. And like every Grizzly Bear release, dividends are paid to those who spend deliberate time with Shields, as each consecutive listen makes for a richer experience. The album never quite reaches the peaks the band reached on its previous two efforts, but nonetheless, Shields is more meticulously crafted baroque pop for those who give it the time of day.