It’s difficult to produce a follow-up to an album like Veckatimest. The Brooklyn-based indie rock band Grizzly Bear released this album in 2008 to much critical acclaim, ridding the band of its underground status. The superb record was filled with beautiful melodies and rich with various instruments. The album exhibited Grizzly Bear’s keen attention to every single meticulous sound, as well as the band’s undeniable talent.
It’s four years later and the band, which formed in 2002, returned on Tuesday with the release of its latest LP, Shields. While this fourth album does not evoke the same sort of deep emotional and spiritual journey for listeners as Veckatimest may have upon first listen, it’s still nothing short of stellar. The band takes a completely different turn with this album. The sound has less of a pop-influence, without any “Ready, Able” or “Two Weeks” equivalents, and as a result, the sound is less accessible.
Shields is refined. It’s darker and heavier. With Veckatimest’s success on its resume, Grizzly Bear has no reason to have to reproduce a similar work. The quartet already proved that they are talented, so now they have greater flexibility to take risks. This new approach doesn’t redefine the band; it simply makes it more complex.
Shields is exciting in that it is a different application of Grizzly Bear’s intelligent lyricism and play with sounds. The songs exhibit a clearer sound and richer instrumentals, thanks to producer and bassist Chris Taylor, and the lyrics are even more intricate, which can perhaps be accredited to the band’s more collaborative approach this time around.
These 10 tracks were clearly chosen with care. In fact, vocalist and guitarist Daniel Rossen released a five-track EP, Silent Hour/Golden Mile, last March featuring songs written by Rossen that were originally deliberated for the band’s upcoming album. The songs that did make the cut for Shields, however, provide for a seamless listen from start to end.
The album starts off strong with the opening track, “Sleeping Ute.” The track is filled with upbeat vigor and sounds similar to tracks from Veckatimest. It’s a bit more rock-inspired though, with robust but catchy guitar and percussion sounds. The energy slowly dies down around the last minute as a more relaxing calm takes over, drawing more focus to the vocals. “Speak in Rounds” also emulates this energy with its entrancing beat. The vocals are soothing and the rhythm starts off slow, but the sounds of the acoustic guitar and the drums allow the song to pick up momentum, leading into the chorus.
“Gun-Shy” features a vibrant mix of synths, drums and guitars, with intertwining vocals in the foreground and background, adding many dimensions to the song. “A Simple Answer” has a more pop sound with loud, vigorous piano throughout, but the soothing harmonies and the prevalent synth sounds fuse to give the song a psychedelic dimension. Lead single “Yet Again” is an upbeat, rock-and-roll track where frontman Ed Droste’s soothing voice particularly stands out as he sings about the progression of a relationship: “Take it all in stride / Speak, don’t confide / We barely have a case.”
It is the final song “Sun In Your Eyes” that pulls listeners into another world, closing the already-dynamic album in epic fashion. The seven-minute track is composed of two distinct sections. It begins with mellow singing and a slow piano, with lyrics equally despondent: “And every stone and every step / I won't recall / Emptied out of every thought / Just soft ground.” As the song dies down around four minutes in, teasing us with an ending, the piano gradually continues and picks up speed, delving into a dreamy, psychedelic state. The sound segues into an edgier, louder plane, dramatically ending with: “I’m never coming back,” trailed by a fading piano chord.
Those unfamiliar with Grizzly Bear probably won’t get drawn into the band with this album, but for fans of Veckatimest or the band’s 2006 album Yellow House, this album is certainly worth listening to. When listened to sequentially, each track provides a smooth transition into the next, and the refined production allows listeners to better rejoice in Grizzly Bear’s appreciation for sound. The multi-layered vocals and fascinating combination of various instruments provide for a beautifully dense album. Shields is no doubt a well-crafted piece of work, and Grizzly Bear yet again proves its immense, unique talent.