Grizzly Bear has done it again. After a three year hiatus following 2009’s Veckatimest, Shields, their fourth studio album yet and arguably their most cohesive. For the first time, all of the tracks were written by both members Rossen and Droste together, and this Lennon/McCartney relationship is undoubtedly responsible for the tangible flow from song to song that wasn’t always present in albums prior.
The group’s established knack for floating, transitive, albeit catchy melodies remains throughout the album, as does their tendency to mix long and developed anthems in with shorter ones and occasional interludes. From its first song, “Sleeping Ute”, the multi-dimensional feel of the album is already detected.
Beginning with a slow, reluctantly syncopated backbeat, this dreamy, rhythm-heavy tune layers synth upon guitar riff upon percussion upon Rossen’s smooth vocals, and speeds up, growing in volume until a peak is reached. Accompanied solely by a quiet acoustic guitar, the song ends on a sad note, as Rossen heart-breakedly sings, “And I hate to see you go/But I know no other way. Than straight on out the door.”
The fourth track on the album, and also Shields’ first single, “Yet Again,” shows Grizzly Bears’s more poppy, upbeat side at first, with its dancey melody and constant tambourine. As it goes on, “Yet Again” pushes toward the status of rock anthem—with its breakdowns, screaming guitar solos and intergalactic synths. Ending on a high note, the song to follow, “The Hunt” jolts the listener with a transition from something fast, verily produced and driving to a slower, rawer, softer tune. Rossen seems so vulnerable, his sensitive voice almost scratchy with emotion—completely juxtapose to his role in “Yet Again.”
I guess that’s my favorite part of the album; it’s difficult to articulate, but I’ll try. Shields artistically and tastefully combines opposites, synthesizing the fast with the slow, the happy with the sad, the troubled with the carefree. But it does not do so in a disconnected fashion by any means—by the contrary, the smoothness of this album is palpable. Don’t believe me? See for yourself.
RIYL: Animal Collective, Sufjan Stevens, Elliot Smith
Top Tracks: Sleeping Ute, Yet Again, The Hunt