Grizzly Bear has been one of indie rock’s most celebrated bands since its 2006 album Yellow House. With their massively acclaimed 2009 work Veckatimest, they firmly established themselves as indie rock’s finest innovators. With that level of hype, any lesser band could have reverted “back to basics” or simply faded out of the spotlight altogether. With Shields, however, Grizzly Bear not only charges forward stylistically but makes one of the year’s best and most engaging albums.
From start to finish, this album feels bigger than their previous work, building grandiose melodies out of their indie-folk sound. Opener “Sleeping Ute” rockets the album forward, building towers of layered electric guitar to contrast Daniel Rossen’s voice. “Speaking In Rounds” uses thrilling drums and acoustic guitars that undulate through the mix to both complement and at times combat frontman Ed Droste’s voice. “Yet Again,” perhaps Grizzly Bear’s finest song to date, uses the band’s signature acoustic sound and amplifies it with dynamic electric guitars and vocal harmonies that the band has been known for, eventually transitioning into a mass of distortion toward the tail end of the track.
“Adelma” is a fascinating, Brian Eno-esque ambient instrumental track that fills the air with spacey, chilling pianos. “A Simple Answer” is an energetic track that uses powerful, classic-rock-sounding percussion and an infectious bassline to make the song truly engaging. “Half Gate,” another standout, is perhaps the album’s loudest song, evolving from a quiet folk track into a vigorous, string-accompanied piece.
And yet, even with this louder, grander sound, the album’s quieter moments shine through. The somber percussion of “The Hunt” lends it a dirge-like quality, and “What’s Wrong” adds distortion, cacophony, and a buzzing synthesizer into the most classic-folk-influenced track. “Gun-Shy” is a tranquil, bright track filled with shimmering guitars and airy vocals.
The album’s closer, “Sun In Your Eyes,” feels like the album’s perfect summary. Beginning with an isolated piano and Ed Droste’s vocals, the album quickly moves into a seven-minute epic, complete with lush vocal harmonies, electric guitars, and captivating percussion that constantly shifts from the lone piano to a truly gargantuan sound.
Lyrically, the album draws from a wide range of emotional sources, and each track seems to have its own theme, but the fascinating poetry remains just as powerful throughout each track. The hallucination-driven “Sleeping Ute,” for example, features lyrics like “Delivered to this place/a vision dark and cloaked.” Just as powerful, the morose “Yet Again” exhibits poetry like “Take it all in stride/Speak, don’t confide/We barely have a case.” These immensely well-written lyrics are expertly woven into the texture of each track, with each new listen bringing new phrases and lines to the forefront.
Albums like Shields come along perhaps once in a band’s career; they offer a chance for bands to truly define itself and the sound that it has been building for its entire career. Shields does this and more, thrusting the band forward into realms of beauty that even longtime listeners will be surprised and astounded by. This is, without a doubt, one of the year’s best albums, and it will be difficult for any album in the next few months to dethrone it. Shields is a fascinating, joyous journey, and Grizzly Bear has emerged a stronger, more intense act.