Grizzly Bear – Shields Album Review

“Shields” by Grizzly Bear
Released 18/9/12 on Warp Records (UK)
Produced by Chris Taylor (Grizzly Bear bassist)

The definition of “quaint” is “attractively unusual”, something most people wouldn’t be too comfortable being described as; but in the case of a certain Brooklyn indie rock quartet, Grizzly Bear, they are more than comfortable with their arty, psychedelic-folk fusioned music being labeled as “quaint melodies”.

In truth, even Daniel Rossen, lead guitarist of GB, soulfully wails “And I can’t help myself…” several times, echoing the voice of the group as a whole, in the album’s opening number, “Sleeping Ute”. The first few seconds of this song will hit you hard with a sharp, twangy pang, as Daniel starts a solo on his electric guitar, with a strange, psych-folk riff, and my oh my, this first song takes you places with its folk roots and Panavision-like clear keyboards glistening like bare diamonds.

Ed Droste leads vocally in track 2, “Speak In Rounds”; fully brimmed with tick-tock, tribal, tom drumming by Chris Bear, the jingly-jangly guitar by Rossen complements the song very well. Next up, “Adelma” which seems to replicate “Treefingers”, a zoned-out instrumental from Radiohead’s phenomenal album Kid A.

In my opinion, track 4, “Yet Again”, is one of the stand-out tracks on the album as it incorporates GB’s earlier style, reminiscent of stuff from “Yellow House” & “Veckatimest” whilst still managing to add a few surprising elements, marking the band’s departure from “that” popular indie rock band to true art rock artists in their own right. The last minute is just shrill chaos, screaming high-pitch guitar, distortedly aggravating your ears in a nice way. Brilliant stuff.

Then “The Hunt” begins, with weird guitar scrapes floating all around the place, but somehow going so well with the tom-drumming and Ed’s voice, which leads you into a very mysterious place, possibly a forest, whilst holding a flashlight. God, it’s beautiful. The soundscapes achieved on said track recall “Yellow House” in a great but somewhat different manner.

“A Simple Answer” starts off happily with upbeat drums, piano in the background, and Dan’s voice just adding a subtle texture, a minimal colour in the already magnificent rainbow of magical noises. I must say, the guitar work by Rossen is pretty impressive considering he also sings in these songs. Seriously, mad respect to him. Four minutes in, Ed takes over as leading voice, and the track takes a change in tempo, moving slower, with electronics adding some buzz to the already calming approach the song is taking. The instrumentation on this album is also awesome, just amaze-balls.

In “What’s Wrong”, violins join in the parade of sounds; electronic synths add a warm glow to the jazzy, African-like drum beats & experimental bass riffing that goes so well with the facade of sounds. It is evident in these songs that Rossen & Droste share most of their vocal parts, as in previous albums before it seemed that they weren’t comfortable with each other. Drums take a sharp turn, Rossen wails more loudly and the bass hops around, a bit like a flat-footed bunny. This track reminds me of “Marla”, but more theatrical and interesting; slight piano accentuates the raindrop-like drumming, adding a feast of indescribable musical flavours. GB have seriously outdone themselves, in more ways than one, with this majestic set of tracks.

2 more tracks to go & “Gun-Shy” comes on. This one sounds real happy, with weird guitar sounds like wailing whales lost in the sea. The bass playing offhand notes in the back contributes greatly to the overall sound of the song & album overall. During the chorus, Rossen & Droste combine vocals and voice out their different desperations, keyboards hopping a bit like the bunny, yet a bit different though.

Second from last track “Half-Gate” starts off with a soft acoustic guitar and some heavy cello work, before turning into this Arcade Fire-like folk, country-ish number, bass softly coming in between the other sounds. One and a half minutes in, the song seems to sound a little faster, soft drumming with added hi-hat action. Half way in, the gates start to crash. Grizzly Bear take you into a river-y, forest-y chaos, and you feel chased by a beautiful, unexplained beast. The track ends in an almost similar fashion to “Yet Again” but in a slightly happier, weirder way.

Then the closing track to the album, the 7 minute magnificent epic, “Sun In Your Eyes”. I give it 5 stars. Hands down, it’s the best, most interesting song on the album. A door closes, Dan sings softly & sweetly accompanied by Rhodes-like piano, drums join in with controlled composure. Then, the chorus. Ah, the sunlight is amazing in my eyes (/ears). Technicolour keyboards, flutes float around forced-like drumming, and Dan’s voice, it’s breathtakingly amazing. It soon enters the verse and it is a bit like the intro, the second chorus gets better though as both Rossen & Droste share vocals, singing with each other, like playing a game of musical ping-pong. Bridge comes now, Rossen softly states “It overflows…”, ah, yes.. the magic overflows like the Rivers of Babylon. Then sudden silence. The piano mentions something, disorderly, in the middle of the song before being joined in by some clearly composed guitar & drums. The song ends with a bass & keys duet, and there you go. Amazing on all standards.

One thing I love about Grizzly Bear is the fact that all four members sing while playing their own respective instruments, something pretty rare for a musical group, especially in this type of genre. This album just confirmed what I thought and believed in for some time, that Grizzly Bear isn’t merely a one-hit wonder indie rock band looking for hipster fame, but true artists in baroque pop, trippy folk-infused rock, just making art the best way they can. Is their best yet to come? Maybe. Is this the most accessible album, where Grizzly Bear accepted their true selves and gained fans in both mainstream and hipster (oops..) circles, which has probably never really been done before? Definitely a yes.

If you want to try indie rock – but don’t know how to start, this is a good place to try your hand. Or ears.

Album rating: 9/10
“Better than good :)”

Danish Zainal

"Zeal without knowledge is fire without light." - Thomas Fuller, 17th century historian

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