Most of Grizzly Bear’s previous albums featured songs with repetitive lyrics and instrumental plateaus that could lull you to sleep. Not so with Grizzly Bear’s fourth studio LP, Shields, which arrives three years after the release of the band’s celebrated Veckatimest. The Brooklyn-based indie rockers still maintain their signature lush, intricate melodies but newly prominent vocals and a comparatively frenetic pace sets Shields miles apart from previous work.
The dramatic opening track, “Sleeping Ute,” sets off the album with anxious lyrics, crashing drums and melodically elaborate ups and downs. It’s worth noting that the Ute is a Peyote-worshipping tribe that primarily resides in the mountains and desert of the American Southwest. Throughout the album the lyrics refer to scenic details such as “grey hills,” “tundra” and “a desert in deface”; this, combined with the persistent heavy drumbeats and nature-inspired synth effects makes Shields feel like a psychedelic journey through the great outdoors. Not exactly surprising for a band called Grizzly Bear.
Earlier this year, Daniel Rossen released his solo EP, Silent Hour/Golden Mile, that is made up of simple, melodic songs he originally wrote for Grizzly Bear but decided to release on his own instead. These songs evoke the same sense of being outdoors but have a more pure, sober sound. Rossen is an exceptionally talented guitar player and can hold his own as a solo musician, however, this EP could get a little boring after a while—kind of like wandering around in a forest for too long without any psychedelic drugs.
According to Ed Droste, the band took a more democratic approach to songwriting with Shields, and the combined effort has certainly paid off. The melodic interplay between Droste and Rossen’s voices is particularly notable on tracks “What’s Wrong” and “Gun-Shy.” At times the singers’ voices even overlap different lyrics, but instead of creating a word jumble, they intertwine, a perfect meshing of visions.
Shields’ complexity makes it one of those albums that requires a few listens to fully appreciate; it takes a couple of swings through the weaving raw vocals, rambling guitar riffs and chameleon-like synths to figure out everything that’s going on in this album. At times it is meandering and peaceful and at others chaotic and unsettling. But it’s worth the listening investment, as Shields is already proving itself as a candidate for best album of the year.