It’s easy to forget that at one point, Grizzly Bear was the sound of Edward Droste alone in his bedroom making music for friends that the rest of the world wasn’t supposed to hear. Things change, though, as things are wont to do (like the usage of the word “wont” itself), and over the course of four albums, Grizzly Bear has become an elder states-band of American indie rock circa the early 2000s, so critics and fans have been waiting with eagerness and trepidation these past three years for the follow-up to Veckatimest to arrive.
It’s a different musical world Grizzly Bear find themselves in in 2012, and while some of their signature sound remains in place, their new album Shields sees new breed of Grizzly Bear evolve. The perfect and delicate vocal harmonies of its predecessor are eschewed in favour of a raw, more direct delivery. Jazz still figures prominently in the arrangements, but on tracks like “Yet Again” and “A Simple Answer”, pop has been just as warmly embraced. For all the stories of hand-wringing and stress over the creation of the record, Shields sounds effortless in places, intuitive even. Most obvious to me is that Shields is unmistakably less pretentious than its predecessor, and much more enjoyable. For as much as I loved Veckatimest, I loved the idea of it more than its actual execution. In truth, aside from its stand out single “Two Weeks” the rest of that record’s songs blurred into each other and filled a void in the background. Shields holds my attention as a listener, makes emotional connections through songs like “The Hunt”, where I may not draw direct parallels with my life in its lyrics, but musically it resonates somewhere in my soul: “Another back and forth turn around/one that makes no sense but feels good anyhow”.
Shields feels good. It feels really good to have Grizzly Bear back in the musical fray, and that’s about as much as I need to know to know that it’s going to be a record that I’ll revisit and enjoy for a time to come.
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