By Hayley Scott
Since their arrival in 2004, success has been gradually burgeoning for Grizzly Bear. In a time when British music was submerged in the genericisms of Razorlight and Kasabian, proprietor Ed Droste was conceiving ideas for Horn of Plenty: his home-recorded brainchild not initially meant for prying ears, and only intended to be heard by friends. The experimental results of which introduced us to the dynamic and intriguing world of Grizzly Bear. Since their debut (albeit Yellow House is often argued as being the bands first ‘proper’ full length) they have gone on to continually affect, perplex and surprise by always being a few miles ahead of your average, prosaic indie band.
The result of Shields was inevitable: as a follow up from the highly praised and more attainable Veckatimest, the new effort achieves exactly what you would expect from a band who have a habit of continually advancing in musical scope. Shields appears to be a product of Grizzly Bear’s 8 year long exertion: there’s aspects of all of their previous albums within this record, from the obscure instrumentation and experimentalism on Horn of Plenty to the grandiose choruses that conquer Yellow House.However, there are elements unleashed that are unlike any thing the band have previously done.
Similar to its predecessor, it is warm but challenging, yet still remains accessible. It is, however, important to note that Shields is not simply a sequel to Veckatimest: there is a distinct lack of their trademark lush, cooing vocal harmonies that were such dominant forces within its forefathers. In fact, Shields is noticeably less stylised than Veckatimest, resulting in fewer vocals and more room for obscurity, while any imperfections are also exposed, creating something that is understated and raw but subtly confident.
The opener, ‘Sleeping Ute’, is testimony to this with its befuddling time signature and lysergic noises. It contains a forceful explosion of energy that boasts the band’s greatest attribute: Daniel Rossen’s distinctive jazz guitar sound. While Rossen also takes centre stage vocally throughout Shields, it is Droste’s congruous tones that feature on some of the album’s more prominent tracks, such as ‘Yet Again’ and ‘Gun-Shy’. The former has already made quite an impact with its nod to a pop aesthetic that had led to imprudent comparisons to Coldplay, but it is the dreamy, drawn-out, crescendo that prevents ‘Yet Again’ from being overly radio-friendly, while adding a familiar dissonance that gives Grizzly Bear their idiosyncratic edge.
The latter is a stand-out track that has a steady nonchalant tone and pace that is carried perfectly by Droste’s somnambulistic vocals which often interplay with Rossen’s subtle contributions. It is suitably followed by ‘Half Gate’, in which the band’s fervour for depicting sensitivity with simple-yet-profound lyricism against a backdrop of rousing strings and melodramatic instrumentation reminds us why we fell for them in the first place. ‘Half Gate’ also features Droste and Rossen giving us the best of both worlds by sharing and combining vocal duties which coalesce to form a perfect collective.
Just when guitar music was beginning to show signs of lacking in creativity and depth, Grizzly Bear appear with Shields. While Shields is undoubtedly triumphant, it perhaps takes more than a quick once over to fully appreciate and acknowledge its cohesive force. There are songs that grab you from the offset, whereas others take a while to absorb, thus its shimmering appeal only enhances over time. Ultimately though – this is one of their finest moments, and once you’ve given it the time it deserves - Shields sounds like a classic in the making.