Grizzly Bear pulls another ace
Published: Thursday, September 20, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
Artist: Grizzly Bear
Release Date: Sept. 18
One trait that some of the best indie/alternative rock acts have in common is the ability to convey a similar, constant range of emotions while constantly changing their sonic direction. Bands like Radiohead, TV on the Radio and Grizzly Bear all work off those feelings of existential angst, yearning and silent aggression but still release high quality albums without sounding monotonous.
Grizzly Bear showed its versatility when it followed up the fantastic Yellow House with the equally impressive Veckatimest. But instead of going further into the experimental rabbit hole, the quartet brings a more expansive – and perhaps more accessible – sound with Shields.
Veckatimest sought to surround listeners with waves of densely expressive instrumentalism and vocals. Shields stabs at that same hollow sphere of emotions with the same level of intricacy. Shields doesn’t build the expansive mausoleum Veckatimest does, but sometimes a collection of vivid, masterfully painted pictures does just fine. Grizzly Bear paints some of its best pictures to date in this 2012 standout.
The production aesthetics are toned down slightly this album to draw attention to the raw instrumentation. Shields has a bit more guitar play than Grizzly Bear’s previous efforts, so the toned-down studio effects gives the album more of an authentic feel.
The change subtracts some of the breadth the quartet had in previous efforts, but the added depth more than makes up for its absence. Those guitar riffs, abrasive horns and intense rhythm section sound much more emotional.
Sequencing is one of Shields’greatest assets. There’s no question this album has its standouts – “Yet Again” and “Sleeping Ute” are some of this year’s best tracks – but each track fits together extremely well. “Yet Again” deserves to be heard after the dystopian majesty of “Adelma,” and the pseudo doo-wop of “gun-shy” begs to be heard after the creepy “What’s Wrong.”
The songs are structured in a way which allows the album to blend easily. Grizzly Bear’s best songs steadily build to a climax and vanish just as they reach their peak (see “Two Weeks” and “On a Neck, On a Spit”). The songs on Shields mostly have varying crescendos and peaks, which adds to the album’s consistency.
Even though the LP sounds cohesive, each band member is given a chance to shine. Vocalist Daniel Rossen said, in an interview with The New York Times, the band wanted 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.”
Nobody can say Grizzly Bear doesn’t sound completely in-sync on Shields, but it’s hard not to praise drummer Christopher Bear’s energy on “Speak in Rounds” or compliment Rossen on creating that addicting riff on “Sleeping Ute.”
Rossen still maintains his high-pitched vocals throughout Shields. Some argue the style is a bit repetitive, but it’s crucial because it helps tie the whole album. His vulnerability provides the emotional center of Shield’s constantly shifting instrumentals. The chemistry peaks in the album’s closer, “Sun In Your Eyes.” Here, a clichéd phrase turns into an empowering moment.
“Stretched out/fallen wide,” Rossen sings. “The light has scorched the same/So bright, so long/I’m never coming back.”
It’s strange to know beautiful music could come from such pain. If it takes three years to deliver an album of this caliber - there was also a three-year gap between Yellow House and Veckatimest - who’s really willing to complain?