After taking some time off following the success of their third album, 2009’s Veckatimest, Grizzly Bear is back with an album that may take a while to sink in. Touring with Radiohead in 2008 looks to have influenced the band…so where Veckatimest might be considered their OK Computer, Shields is Grizzly Bear’s Kid A.
Grizzly Bear started out as Ed Droste’s solo project, but over the past decade it has grown into a fully-functioning band. Droste describes Shields as their “most collaborative” album yet. Bass player Chris Taylor is back in the producer’s chair…he’s also playing a variety of other instruments including sax, clarinet, flute, synths and something called “The Wheel”. All four band members share the vocal duties.
The band originally planned to record the album in Texas and cut 12 tracks there that were later abandoned, except for two. One of them, Sleeping Ute, starts things off. It’s a dramatic opener full of rolling drums, crashing guitar chords and a bubbling synth all over a rather pastoral acoustic guitar. The track is typical of most of the album, its ambitious, quite beautiful at times and very impressive, but difficult to get anything emotional out of.
Speak In Rounds is a rather verbose entry that proves difficult to decipher. “Take it as it is, make another fist, step down just once, learn how to be alone. It sounds profound, but I’m still scratching my head, although the concept of emotional distance seems to be a recurring theme. All this is attached to an attractive, but ultimately forgettable melody.
Later on, What’s Wrong features a dark, foreboding string section and a dreamy, hallucinatory Wurlitzer. The result is somewhat unsettling, but at least it elicits an emotional response.
But then tracks like Half Gate start to make a connection only to be thwarted by the band’s over-ambitious and cluttered production.
It isn’t until the last song, Sun In Your Eyes, that they open up by giving the song some air by just featuring piano, high-hat and vocals.
This may be the band’s most collaborative effort, but it may also be a case of “too many cooks”. What they need is a singular vision to give their music focus. Shields is an album of music made to admire, but not to fall in love with.
Click here to listen to Speak In Rounds from Shields: