Grizzly Bear has always been a band concerned with filling spaces and redefining them. Yellow House was more domestic and introspective, while Veckatimest seemed blown-out, ready to engulf the small island it was named after. Grizzly Bear’s new album, Shields, is more preoccupied with time spent apart, the album length mish-mash of influences and experiences separate from each other and the excitement that emanates from bringing new ideas to people you’re very familiar with but haven’t seen in a while.
For a band coming off their biggest tour of their careers after Veckatimest, time off seems to have been necessary. While the band is notoriously well-adjusted and down-to-earth, like turning a recent feature with Spin into a cozy barbeque, a year and a half is a long time to spend with four people. Ed Droste speaks frequently of the break in a preview piece with Pitchfork, “I needed to be back in my life with my friends and my spouse, and live a day-to-day existence that had nothing to do with music.” The rest seeped into the recording, creating something fresh and direct. It would have been a mistake to try an pack Shields with “Two Weeks”-like singles, instead Shields patiently buildsand swirls around, echoing the past but taking the reverberations and bringing them in different directions.
Taking cues from Daniel Rossen’s excellent EP, Silent Hour/Golden Mile, released earlier this year, Shields sounds spartan in comparison to their past albums. While Veckatimest and Yellow House relied on murky atmospheres, frequently relying on multi-tracked vocals to convey something BIG, Shields relies more on the singular voice. First single “Sleeping Ute” is rooted in Rossen’s locomotive guitar work, constantly picking around the ups and downs of his voice. Next track picks up with Droste taking lead, and a callback to the space-flang that marked Veckatimest. The back and forth between Droste and Rossen makes it’s way into single tracks, like late album “What’s Wrong,” which sounds like a David Lynch themed prom, a stoic band in the background amongst the eerie lighting and arms length distanced away couples. The collaborative spirit began in recording, as Rossen describes in the New York Time’s piece on the band, the goal was to “write and make music that is as collaborative as possible, so that we have a product that we all feel a sense of authorship over as a collective.” For a band that has been together as long as Grizzly Bear, it’s a nice step to take. It feels more cohesive than previous albums, more accomplished, and it’s harder to pick out influences or contemporaries; they’ve finally grown into something wholly themselves.
Shields doesn’t lack highpoints. Fourth track “Yet Again” feels like a celebration of everything Grizzly Bear has become in 2012, a band capable of writing something buoyant, ooing and ahing while setting up a comfortable smiling audience for a guitar feedback freakout. The last track “Sun In Your Eyes” may be the happiest thing they’ve written. It sounds like a coronation, a victory lap for the easy comfort and lack of anxiety around those you spend the most time with. Rossen quietly sings, “Silver and silent rushing on/ Endless abundance overflows/Always surround you, always glows,” and then the band rushes back in with the chorus. It’s a nod back to some of their past singles, “While You Wait For The Others,” and “On A Neck, On A Spit” that surprise you with a wall of sound.
The distance between their image as buttoned up choir boys and their lack of reservations about getting LOUD are part of what make Grizzly Bear vital. They surprise in the best way and continuously write great songs while piecing together outstanding albums. I don’t see that ending anytime soon.