Pitchfork gave Grizzly Bear's new album, Shields, a 9.1 out of 10. Rolling Stone gave it a thumbs up. CMJ thinks it's "album of the year"-worthy. Perhaps The New York Times felt some hometown pride for this Brooklyn-based band with their glowing review as well. Across the board Shields has been well received. Before reading any of the hype, however, I had a listen on the NPR Music's First Listen. I have tried time and time again to let Grizzly Bear's soft vocals, and beautiful melodies grow on me, but Veckatimest and their other previous albums have never won me over, boy was I in for a surprise.
"Sleeping Ute," the first song on the newly released fourth album, was recorded in Marfa, TX and remains the only track on the record from those sessions. (Full disclosure: Marfa was my home before moving to the Bay, which gave me even more reason to want to love Grizzly Bear since they gave us so much love.) This track immediately perked up my finely tuned indie-folk ears. I took a few looks at the NPR player on my computer screen to make sure I wasn't listening to an imposter. Thunderous drums, perfectly picked light cords, and windy symbols challenge Ed Droste's voice to meet the needs of the music calmly, and coolly. [Correction: as noted below in the comments section, Daniel Rossen sings lead vocal on "Sleeping Ute."]
The listener is transported into some sort of Radiohead cave where My Morning Jacket is hanging out with Beach House around a fire -- the Shields emblem flickering in the background, and the Fleet Foxes are en route with whiskey. The best part about this disc, however, is that it truly is an album. Each song has its own momentum and carries the listener through to the end with tight vocals, and dreamy and more complex than usual musical melodies.
Grizzly Bear narrates this record astutely from start to finish. The finale, "Sun In Your Eyes," really tips the hat to the band's evolution, recalling strong earlier songs like "Southern Point" (Veckatimest) and "Lullabye" (Yellow House). Conscious of the album format, Grizzly Bear works hard to make music that has a cohesive sound throughout.
"Take it all in stride, speak don't confide." This lyric from "Yet Again" sums up what has changed for me inside Grizzly Bear’s discography. The band didn't confide in us with previous albums, the tunes were kept at arm's length, tracing the edges of the room but never quite filling it. Shields certainly confides in us, it requires our attention without asking too much, which I think is what Grizzly Bear's intention may have always been.
Grizzly Bear perform live Tuesday, October 9, 2012 at the Fox Theater in Oakland. Baltimore's Lower Dens are opening. For tickets and information, visit thefoxoakland.com.
For a preview of tonight's show, check out this YouTube vid, recorded at a recent Radio City Music Hall performance in New York.