Album Review: Grizzly Bear, Shields, Warp Records


A guitar string is plucked, drums stumble in half asleep and picking up on a rhythm that bobs and jerks like an ocean current. The song is “Sleeping Ute,” and it begins Grizzly Bear’s new album in a drunken haze. The rhythm is half jazz, half new-age-psych-folk rock being played with the reverb set too high. Ah yes, this is the Grizzly Bear I remember, but let’s not be too hard on them yet. To be honest, Shields is a bumpy, jerky rollercoaster of a ride, but it’s one that I ultimately want to get on again and again. Throughout the album, Ed Droste’s airy, romantic voice floats like a fragile bubble along the melody, at times sounding like it could pop and disappear forever if a sharp object happened to get in its way. In “Yet Again,” a radio hit is almost trying to remain hidden. Truth is, the song is pretty poppy, but poppy can also mean catchy, and the song certainly succeeds in that. Is it pop? Maybe not in your typical sense of the word, but I don’t care. I like it. “The Hunt” is one of the few Grizzly Bear songs where the lyrics speak louder than the music. I can’t sing any one part of the song by heart, nor can I explain what the hell it is they’re trying to say, but every word hits like a pin to the cheek: quick, sharp, and momentarily stinging. On “A Simple Answer,” Grizzly Bear hit with a track that bounces off the walls, getting better as it goes on. Here, it’s clear that Shields is the album where Grizzly Bear sound more comfortable than they ever have in their studio surroundings. They know which alleys to go down and which to avoid. Take “A Simple Answer” for example: sure, they’ve recorded lengthy numbers before, but there’s something different now. They’re polished professionals, but in a totally awesome way. Now, every long, drawn-out studio flourish is well worth listening to, and every short, concise song strikes exactly where it should, and that’s the essence of Shields. This album shows Grizzly Bear growing comfortable with themselves and what they can accomplish, and it’s never felt so good. Ahh, finally, sweet relief. Zach Rogers