No more commercial or obviously accessible than its title suggests, Veckatimest was a surprising landmark for Grizzly Bear. The Brooklyn quartet had persisted with their precise sound through the noughties, and with their third album found an audience eager to elevate them.
It’s unsurprising that Shields is, like its predecessor, meticulously plotted and almost scientific in its exactness. Three years have been taken to form this album, and though side-projects will have contributed to the prolonged gestation, surely time has been taken fending off concessions. Quality control on a record as dense and sophisticated as this must delay proceedings.
The tastemakers and Grizzly fans do not base their loyalty on purely technical merits of course, and thankfully what has survived on Shields are the unexpected moments of beauty that emerge and surprise from within the intricate arrangements. Opening track ‘Sleeping Ute’ is a useful example. Starting simply enough – and it should be stated, the time signatures and general chord progressions are never overly experimental – there is a sense of accomplishment, but also awe. Nothing overwhelming or likely to soundtrack a hospital drama, but enough to enliven your spirit as well as engage your brain.
Patience is rewarded then, as the sparser passages feel necessary in their shading of the fragments of light that periodically pierce through the delicate cracks of Shields. ‘Speak In Rounds’ is a joy that is countered by the more moody ‘Adelma’ that follows; a barren landscape in comparison, Grizzly Bear are most obviously picking up from Radiohead’s obfuscation at this point.
There is a steadiness about the tone of this project, and while the group has acknowledged a more democratic process, with writing duties more equally distributed, this is mostly about containment and moderation. Clearly different approaches have been considered, and there are a number of angles from which to approach Shields, but it is above all cohesive.
Letting go and cutting loose can be left for another project/band, but until then we have album-closer ‘Sun In Your Eyes’. Somewhat typically, in order to warrant such freedom of expression the track is opened up to exceed the seven- minute mark. In doing so, though, Grizzly Bear offer a glimpse at a sound that surpasses their proficient style and encounters a visceral territory that is less easily accounted for.