Grizzly Bear: Shields Review (Three Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are three reactions, three impressions, three takes on Shields by Grizzly Bear.
A lot of people thought it couldn’t be done. A lot of people saw the burst that was the critically acclaimed and commercially successful Veckatimest and thought how are Grizzly Bear going to top that? Well the answer is in Shields, Grizzly Bear’s fourth album. The album definitely continues to showcase the band’s amazing maturity, the fact that the focus is less on themselves and moreso in making a complete work shows the testament to their virtuosity and their amazingly uncanny knack for keeping the detail in their arrangements. It’s what allows the lead-off “Sleeping Ute” to shine, and allows something like “Yet Again” and “The Hunt” to really show off their growth. It’s really hard not to like their new work because it isn’t Veckatimest, but then again, with Shields, Grizzly Bear still create an awesome masterpiece.
I mainly think the new Grizzly Bear record is great – let me just get that straight first of all. If I had to find faults though I wouldn’t have minded more of Chris Taylor’s vocals. For me Taylor’s high pitched eeriness has always been one of the things that sets the band apart from say, Department of Eagles. To me this sounded more like a thoroughly Daniel Rossen dominated project – which is fine, I generally love Rossen – but at the same time I wouldn’t have minded more variety. I would prefer more Ed Droste as well – though as long as it isn’t in the form of songs like “Yet Again,” which sounds like a bit of an attempt to ape Arcade Fire. It isn’t half bad but it’s definitely not my favorite. Those would be: “The Hunt” and “Gun Shy,” both beautiful meditations on baroque chamber pop.
The record could also use a few frayed ends. Everything is so tidy, so beautifully elegant and soberly composed that I think a few raw edges here or there would have made for a nice dynamic. Still, I can’t complain much – even perfectly coiffed Grizzly Bear are still pretty gorgeous to listen to – and this album is no exception.
If you ever have been lucky enough to visit a city bursting with art and culture (I am thinking Florence, Italy), you know that feeling that can come from being slightly-to-completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of beauty that slaps you in the face around every corner. You try not to become apathetic to the beauty, but it can be so overwhelming, so omnipresent, that you can’t help but feel at times like you are not capable to absorb all that you should be absorbing. I have often felt that way with Grizzly Bear, and that feeling is amplified with their latest LP, the lush, ornate and exceptionally beautiful Shields. From the rich, multifaceted jangle of album opener “Sleeping Ute” to epic, six plus minute closer “Sun in Your Eyes,” Shields grabs the listener by the throat, albeit with a velvet glove, and doesn’t let up over the staggering 10 song album. From the Radiohead-esqe pop dissonance of “The Hunt” to the breezy harmonies of “Gun-Shy,” there wasn’t a point on Shields were I desperately reached for the “next” button. Yet I left feeling distant. Maybe it was the grandeur. Maybe it was that the record felt too immaculate, too groomed for its own good. I felt myself enjoying it from a distance, appreciating more than engaging. It was the fancy painting that I could not help but acknowledge, but it just didn’t hit that spot. Just like my college self walking past a museum to go to the bar, I will whole heartedly admit that Shields is an impressive record, one that I can and do like, but to be honest, I mostly just want to listen to the new Ty Segall record until my eardrums bleed.