Brooklyn-based Grizzly Bear releases fourth album ‘Shields’
By Julian Danziger, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Grizzly Bear never had me at “hello.” For the most part, they never have been — or have really tried to be — the type of band that grabs listeners with their indie hooks or folk-rock sing-alongs, and consequently I never gave them much of a shot. It took about a year of the band’s catchy jams such as “Two Weeks” and “Knife” for me to really start listening to them. And when I did, their musical sophistication and low-fi, folky perfectionism had my full attention.
The Brooklyn-based band has been making indie folk-rock music since the early 2000s. They’ve earned a reputation for being multi-dimensional, producing songs that range from nothing more than a musical whisper to catchy indie-rock ballads.
Released this month, Grizzly Bear’s fourth album “Shields” aptly demonstrates the talent of the detail-oriented band, but its slow-paced nature will probably not grab any non-fans on the first listen.
Three years after their most successful album “Veckatimest,” the musicians have released a more electric guitar-filled, low-fi album that still sounds organic and is the most complete of their discography. The 10-song “Shields” is quite the ride. Every song can stand strong on its own, but the songs are still connected by the album’s minor chord indie-rock core.
Grizzly Bear begins their album with “Sleeping Ute,” a multifaceted song that relies heavily on the electric guitar. It kicks the album off with heavy riffs and clattering background music. Ed Droste, the band’s frontman, quickly takes over with his crooning voice until about halfway through, at which point a beautiful storm of almost harp-like guitar plucking drastically changes the mood.
The album as a whole is summed up by the careful details and multi-dimensionality of “Sleeping Ute,” and as the introduction to “Shields,” the song makes listeners quickly realize that this album is a special one.
“Yet Again” is my favorite song on the album, and as one of the two singles released late this summer, it has proved to be the most commercially popular track on “Shields.” The song is also heavy on the electric guitar, but it seems to have more of a ballad feel than “Sleeping Ute” or other tracks on the album. In typical Grizzly Bear fashion, the minor chords abound, and the chord progressions are almost hauntingly smooth in their own low-fi way.
The song that most closely resembles the indie-folk pop featured on their “Veckatimest” album is “A Simple Answer,” which until the fourth minute could easily be found on a past Grizzly Bear album. It is a relatable tune with easy riffs and an awesome chorus. Four minutes in to the six-minute song, however, the track drastically changes into a slow and swirling, almost psychedelic indie-rock piece. The transition in the song demonstrates what Grizzly Bear aims to do with the album as a whole, breaking free of their old mold into new areas of musical sophistication.
As the album progresses, the songs seem to get cleaner, crisper and a little more indie-folk, not rock. “Gun Shy” is a great and refreshing track featured in the later part of the album that showcases strong vocals. Droste’s tenor voice singing over a faded synth and louder eclectic beat is at first a difficult listen because of its lack of a relatable hook, but it is another track that really grew on me.
After the cleaner rhythm and vocal-oriented “Gun Shy,” the band transitions seamlessly to the slow rock track “Half Gate.” The song features many contrasting elements, from the slower single-note hammering of Grizzly Bear’s electric guitar over the one-lined croons of Droste to the harmonized key transitions of other voices in the band.
The band has accomplished quite a lot with “Shields,” building on their past few albums with a bit more musically abstract low-fi ideas while keeping their Grizzly Bear indie-folk pop heart. It is a must-listen for any fans of Grizzly Bear, and for those who are a little wary of the band like my former self, give the album a chance — I guarantee it sits well over time.