Those who are in touch with the group's musical repertoire will most likely be able to identify a coherent aesthetic vision that neatly strings together the group's collective output. It's as though from the start, Ed Droste had in mind a vision that was laid out within the blueprint of his musical project and the addition of Chris Bear, Daniel Rossen, and Chris Taylor equipped the vision with the means to expand its trajectory while at the same time refine itself. Today, reference to the band's music conjures associations with a distinct textural quality that mimics the morphing climate that is wholly New England- landscape-culture-temperature and all. In the same vein of many other notable musical acts, Grizzly Bear has experienced the career highlight of sculpting a unique sound whose genesis listeners and critics will always attribute to them; the pillar of sound that would circumscribe an environment of lush desolation.
Through the release of Shields, Grizzly Bear reaffirms their fidelity to this signature faculty, however, using an approach which curiously enough deviates from a path they have opted for in the past. Regarding the construction of Shields, bits and pieces from recent interviews fill in a portrait of four individuals who turned to a more idiosyncratic creative process than ones they have grown accustomed to. This time around, Droste reveals that they were less subdued, often stepping out of their traditional roles in the band- writing parts for each other and exchanging input in a manner that was shamelessly honest.
To the listeners relief, the uninhibited approach paid off tremendously. In Shields, you can almost hear the vibrant atmosphere of the spirited ideology unfurl as the tracks reveal themselves one after the other. An instagram photo posted by the group several months ago on their official Facebook page reveals what guitarist/vocalist Rossen saw when he glanced down during a practice session- an assortment of instruments scattered throughout a shining wood floor, unidentifiable effect boards and a nexus of tangled wire framing a dizzying array of colorful guitar pedals.
The musical notation of the instruments within this album is more intricate than that of Veckatimist. Structure wise, the tracks display the most expressive level of musicality they have achieved to date. The transitions are more spontaneous, the pauses are more dramatic, the build-ups are more expansive, the vocals are clearer and more pleading.
In "Yet Again," the first single released from the album, Droste does not shy away from embracing a strangely upbeat attitude, singing "Take it all in stride, speak don't confide" to a melody line that wouldn't sound out of place in a desert shoot-off scene from an old western flick. The instrumentation, a bright chord sequence colored with atmospheric organ notes, circles a heavily pronounced rhythm consisting of slapping bass lines supported by pounding toms.
The rewards of their stylistic advancements can be most vividly experienced in the 2nd to last track, "Half Gate," where the flow of the first half (n.p.i) is reminiscent of Fleet Foxes, that is until it suddenly explodes into a fountain of burbling layers which create a sonic experience equivalent to that of a monsoon. Alongside the lead vocal melody supplemented with angelic vocal aahs akin to war cries, heavy brass notes paired with metallic guitar riffs ride over deep tribal-like drums rolls. It’s something like an orchestral swelling, the emotional effect of which being heightened by the spiritual content that surfaces in the lyrics.
This is not to imply that all the tracks off the album are ecstatically charged in this way. Shields contains its share of diversity. For instance, the track "Gun-Shy" is reminiscent of sun-kissed Yo La Tengo while the Rossen spearheaded number "Sun In Your Eyes" (the last track of the album) evokes the circus colored imagery that characterized Veckatimest. Each song is discernible from the other and the moods of them range from the mellow ambiguity of Yellow House to the rapturous suspense characterizing "Half-Gate."
It is evident that the four members of Grizzly Bear have meticulously seen to it that the end product of their efforts be fully refined. In any given second of the album, you won't come across an extraneous note, or find an instrument overpowering over another, or notice a snare hit that misleads the vocal rhythm, or even a vocal rhythm that misleads a snare hit. Compositionally speaking, the group pulls off a deft balance among the many layers in each song, and as a result the album as a whole sounds anything but sloppy.
This release reaffirms that Grizzly Bear rightfully holds the status of being among the list of current musical artists who remain at the precipice of expanding sonic possibilities, among the list of bands that seizes the prospects offered by the classic guitar, bass, keyboard, and drum set combo. Altogether, the experience of listening to Shields in it's entirety leaves a mark that is best recapitulated by a segment of their own lyrics:
Endless abundance overflows
Always surround you, always glows
(From “Sun In Your Eyes")
P.S Feel free to comment & share any opinions you have on this album.