Album Review - Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear

Shields Warp Records

"I know it's wrong, just give until it's gone." sings Daniel Rossen on "A Simple Answer", a standout among standouts that is Grizzly Bear's fourth studio album, Shields.  Sometimes the dense, lush tones of GB's previous works, especially 2006's "Yellow House", can make you feel that way;  Crowded yet lonely, claustrophobic and uncomfortable at times.  We've become accustomed to songs that squeezed every ounce of atmospheric emotion out of the sums of their parts.  This was never a horrible thing, but it can be exhausting after a period of time.  But what the band has done with their fantastic new album is open up all the windows of that house.  These songs breathe, they feel alive.  Still hurried and urgent but with room to move: they move around you, they move inside you. The Brooklyn group has always had a flair for adding dramatic elements to the background of their tracks: Strings here, gentle woodwinds there and even full choirs, but never have these elements felt as natural and important to the song structure as they do on "Shields".  Bass player/multi-instrumentalist/LP producer Chris Taylor has arranged the strings and horns in such a way that they never stop the show as they have in the past, but instead work with all the other tones at play.  "Speak In Rounds" is a ridiculously complex and lovely song that sounds like it not's trying too hard to impress.  Layering vocals that pick up steam as the song charges ahead, it's tightly wound with a big, bright, beautiful ribbon.  When listening to Taylor's own solo work as Cant, on last year's equally stellar 'Dreams Come True', you can hear a shift to a more minimalist approach.  One that is less intrusive to the tone of the actual songs and the lyrics and melodies carried within.  This collection of songs builds on Taylor's project and displays the best of his band in a way that is less immediately gratifying as some of their more popular songs of previous albums (Notably, "Veckatimist" tracks such as "One Week" or "While You Wait For The Others") but instead demands your attention to the more nuanced sounds that dance in the background.  This is masterful, complex pop music.  Daniel Rossen's tone and complexity on guitar is a revelation.  The guitar sounds ebb and flow, moving between effervescent scales and liquid strumming that expand on his own powerful solo EP from earlier this year.  Chris Bear's percussion work propels these songs as much as any of the more extraneous elements and it's that slight but powerful playing that is the true backbone of many of these songs.  It's often easy to overlook a truly impactful drummer but his fantastic contributions beg to be acknowledged.  Tracks such as "What's Wrong" have almost a feeling of free-form hushed freakouts and this is a direct correlation to Bear's fantastic playing. Lyrically, the album feels like a study in struggle.  Ed Droste's warm baritone tells stories of self-doubt and quiet conflict.  "Gun-Shy" with it's bouncy bells and slinky bass line evokes a lonely sense of helplessness while, on the surface, sounding extremely warm. "I found the worst half in me/I'm cut off at the knees.  Can't even take a stand/Against your words and demands."  These are muted exorcisms of relationships that make one feel inconsequential and they are truly moving (Even when those relationships are the ones we have with our own psyches). The band have described this as their most collaborative effort to date and it truly shows.  This collection of songs is a tapestry of beautiful sounds and big ideas about the small things in all of our lives.  These songs, while shiny and rich on the surface, ask for your time to fully appreciate and that's quite something in this age of Top 40 singles and ringtone-ready pop music.  This is the sound of a band who has come to embrace what they are and have honed their strengths to a point sharper than the spade that adorns the cover of this titanic effort. -Jake Miller    

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