Review: Grizzly Bear – Shields
Published on October 2nd, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
2009 predecessor Veckatimest was many different kinds of ace, so to describe Grizzly Bear’s latest as a submergence into the same realm is to immediately say: listen, listen and listen again!
Such fussy demands can be made in relation to music so busy of mix – listen to it X amount of times, through earphones, while hanging upside down in a bird sanctuary – but you can only speak of your own experiences, and Rocksucker’s is that multiple plays of Shields have yielded ever-increasing levels of satisfaction, nay enthrallment. This is highly-evolved pop music the likes of which should put so many of its contemporaries to shame, not that Grizzly Bear meant to do or would even like to acknowledge that.
Opener “Sleeping Ute” leads tempestuous, swinging Jeff Buckley-psych into an oddly staggering time signature and the kind of swirly, fingerpicked nocturnalism which inhabited the quieter moments of The Flaming Lips‘ criminally underrated 2006 album At War With the Mystics. Suitably for an album in which so many different elements stake equally legitimate claims for your attention and consideration all at once, the lines “Dreamed a long day / Just wandering free / Though I’m far gone / You sleep nearer to me”, though consecutive, each resonate in their own separate ways as vague summations of what you’re hearing: dreamy, meandering, out there and totally embracing. Yes folks, we’re back in Grizzly Bear country.
“Speak in Rounds” similarly reassures and instructs with “Puts my mind at ease, gives me something to focus on”, riding atop a rhythm section so organic and involved, the perfect accompaniment to its mighty dream-pop, in which disparate elements merge Captain Planet-like to create something truly and arrestingly otherworldly. The sweeping, autumnal “Yet Again” sounds likely to be the LP’s predominant access point in the way that “Two Weeks” was for Veckatimest; despite its instant accessibility, its vague acid lyricism hasn’t really computed over the many airings it’s been given at Rocksucker HQ, but then it doesn’t need to while the music itself is weaving such wonderful shapes around it.
We then have the ‘Elbow on ayahuasca’-evoking “The Hunt”, before the rousing trot of “A Simple Answer” – “Oh goodness mercy my!” indeed – introduces some low piano to Chris Bear’s tribal, ever-rumbling drums for extra business-meaning, and it’s all lovingly smothered with the usual superb vocal performance. Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen don’t just make for an excellent songwriting team; they are both blessed with the kind of distinctive voices that are so rare these days as to be worth treasuring, and the manner in which they assimilate into/splatter all over Chris Taylor’s magical, multi-instrumental production is so seamless that you suspect the presence of one may summon the other.
“What’s Wrong” furthers the air of ‘lost in the woods, experiencing an epiphany’ and weaves threads of Pet Sounds-y exoticness through the fiery-bellied, by-turns-creeped-out-and-enraptured sense of isolation; a trumpet is thrown amidst the dark browns, reds and greens to fend for itself, which it manages to in consummate protagonist fashion. The lovely organ plinks of “Gun-Shy” build into mesmerising swoops of sighing vocal melody that remind so much of something: a particular Beatles song? We’re yet to place it, so please do write in with your suggestions if you have even the foggiest idea what we’re on about.
“Half Gate” sounds like The Shins taking a wrong turn into recent-vintage Flaming Lips: it’s stately, majestic, subtle in its dynamic shifts yet all the more powerful for it, burning softly, swelling, receding and paving the way for the simple, dissonant piano riff and rich, airy croon of closer “Sun in Your Eyes” to first make out as if it’s going to float us out of this nocturnal wonderland, then wrong-foot us into something more akin to being blown away. Having guided us through psychedelic pop’s most flowery mazes, “Sun in Your Eyes” becomes this great big crashing thing of awesomeness that channels the Olivia Tremor Control of Black Foliage…
…but such is the tangential nature of this epic curtain-closer that we are ultimately floated, specifically on softly tinkling piano which at once eases the comedown and waves us a tantalising goodbye until the next time. Shields is comprised of complex, highly-evolved pop music that will challenge you and pay out considerable reward for your efforts, or should we say immersions? Yes, we’ll go with immersions.
If you desire an instant sugar-rush, know that Green Day have a new album out. If however you seek something that may confound and perhaps even unsettle you at first, but that will unravel into something that will occupy a previously uncharted chamber of your imagination, and in doing so colour your psyche and stay with you for life…well, you got it, mister.
That the last few weeks have brought us splendid new albums from the likes of Grizzly Bear, Animal Collective, Deerhoof and Efterklang should be cause for widespread celebration, or at the very least widespread confusion. Either would be gratifying, but as the masses flock towards No Doubt, know that sheer addlement and splendour awaits you should you need it.
Rocksucker says: Four and a Half Quails out of Five!
Grizzly Bear’s fourth album Shields is out now on Warp Records. For more information, please visit grizzly-bear.net