Nov 19, 2012Although Veckatimest might be more of an emotionally-driven album, Shields continues to showcase a band that is somehow--as good as they currently are--simply getting better and better, regardless of the location, the circumstances, regardless of the schedules.
Oct 25, 2012More than anything, Shields feels like a deliberate maturation of Arcade Fire's The Suburbs, trading adolescent angst for an older disillusion and heartbreak. The same tension exists between the two, especially in swelling closers "Half Gate" and "Sun in Your Eyes," yet here, they're more intricately expressed and controlled.
Sep 19, 2012For me, the efforts of this band cannot be downplayed or diminished. They are truly devoted to continual improvement, and this album is a testament to their creative capacity as well as their devotion to constantly make themselves better as a band. I might have listened to opener "Sleeping Ute" 10 times before it struck me what it is (or could be) all about, and the resonance it carried: Rossen, in a contented relationship, far gone, though his partner sleeps "nearer to me [him]" and if he could continue to lie still as that gray hill, he could remain in the relationship, but at a loss; at the sacrifice of opportunities to have "a long day, wandering free". And though he lives to see her face (read, possibly, superficial beauty) and hates to see her go (even though he'll be the one doing the leaving), in spite of comfort, he knows a life awaits him beyond, perhaps through the leaves, perhaps through the smoke that he witnesses so saliently as he lies collapsed on the stone he was "delivered" to in dream to contemplate the vagary (or perchance evolving change) of his present situation. Being true to himself, he knows no other way than to "walk on out the door" because he can't help himself. Previously, it was just a grand rocker with a second movement that expresses perhaps perfectly the calmness and clearness he finds on that rock. Yes, perhaps an overanalysis of one song on the album, but my experience with it speaks to the same effect all 10 songs on this album deliver. Some have called it a grower, but like the best GB songs, it opens up on first listen, then bouquets on repeated listens, just as a fine beloved wine is quaffable at first blush, and becomes something else towards the end of the second glass. The integrity of this effort cannot be diminished, and I'm cautiously optimistic that the publications that rated it with a high enough mark will revisit their sentiments come December, when the best-of lists are released and the finest album of the year is hailed. Sure, that Frank Ocean album...what was it called...was great at first listen, but will it rank the finest album of the year? It ought not to, for while it is an inspired effort, it is also limited by its lack of layers, and its lack of value on repeated listens. There is so much to peel back on Shields, and while I am encouraged by the initial glowing reviews, I believe we have to put all in perspective to realize the sheer strength of this album, given the great expectations that surely would have been placed upon it. It is a Herculean labour to follow up a stellar album like Veckatimest, and the band pulled through, by being perfectionistic, by striving for higher ground, and achieving it. Despite my love for Half Gate, Yet Again and a few other standouts on the album, as a music lover with a deep interest in jazz (and a deep contempt of jazz that aspires to be rock -- oh how many failed attempts that has rendered), Grizzly Bear actually pulled it off with What's Wrong. Listen to the tonal complexity. Listen to the chords. Listen to that Horace Silveresque coda. And recall that the track still embodies all of rock's core competencies, and nothing but amazement and reverie ought to befall. If MetaCritic users could do decimals (unless there's something I'm missing), I would put this at a 9.6 or 9.7 given there are slight imperfections (don't even get me started on MBDTF, which would have earned a great ranking, but was not inherently perfect), but I have to round up, I guess :) Regardless, it might not be for everyone, but musically, lyrically, it is brilliant and a masterpiece. Good work, guys. Can't believe this all began with Droste recording tracks simply "for friends" in his mother's place.… Expand
Sep 24, 2012Shields is Grizzly Bear's fourth studio album and follow-up to their critically-acclaimed Veckatimest, which is among my top ten favorite albums and holds a score of 85/100 here on Metacritic.
This album is much more raw and exposed, less perfect (intentionally) than Veckatimest. I would be stoked, therefore, to see it performed live. Shields brims with grit and energy, much unlike its careful, thought-provoking predecessor. This is Physical Graffiti after Houses of the Holy.
Shields feels much more collaborative than any of the previous albums. Whereas on other albums, it is clear which songs were written by Daniel Rossen and which by Ed Droste, it is not so distinct this time around. While each track's vocalist probably gives it away, there is a stylistic molding that makes Grizzly Bear feel more like a cohesive band. Ed sings tracks full of Daniel's broken rhythms, and Dan seems to have taken a slightly more melodic approach to songwriting. These guys are rubbing off on one another, which is a pleasure to hear.
The album opens with "Sleeping Ute," a slightly aggressive, largely guitar-driven track, clearly written by Dan Rossen. It reminds me a ton of "Southern Point," the opener on Veckatimest. And it's an important song, because it sets the tone for the album. Rossen sounds utterly confused, hesitant to hold on to something he loves out of an arbitrary desire for independence. These feelings are amplified by the juxtaposition of his tentative vocal over an ever-exploding backdrop of bass and drums. "And I live to see your face, And I hate to see you go, But I know no other way, Than straight on out the door. And I can't help myself."
"Speaking Rounds" follows the mellow close of "Ute" with a low-key but powerful opening. It then builds rather quickly to a surprising burst of energy, keeping this album moving forward rather than slowing it down. They bring in all the players here: plenty of background vocals, a horn section and a choir, bass fills and percussive jangle. It really starts to pop with authority, until the timer on the microwave is up and the pops start to dwindle. That's "Adelma": purely transitional, but entirely necessary to bridge the gap between "Rounds" and "Yet Again." It sets us back down from the high of "Rounds" so that we can appreciate the explosion of the album's masterpiece.
Possibly my favorite Grizzly Bear track to date, "Yet Again" features Droste's most impressive and emotional vocal, better even than "Ready, Able," my favorite song off Veckatimest. But what is so great about this track is that, while beautiful and contemplative, it is driven ever forward by Chris Bear's percussive work. The orchestration is full, and the rhythms intertwine with a complexity that we have not yet seen from the band. The track comes to an epic close while Grizzly grooves on a heavy, disgruntled mess resembling the song's earlier motivations. I'm in disbelief.
The next stretch of the album most closely resembles Veckatimest. A slow burner called "The Hunt" precedes "A Simple Answer," which is aptly named. And "What's Wrong" sounds like it could be a bonus track on the previous album.
The next song, "gun-shy," is one of the catchiest on the album, which I didn't notice until I started singing it to myself on the streets and wondered, "what song is this?" It wasn't until then that I took the album for a second listen (this number has now neared fifteen, no joke) and realized that "gun-shy" is a masterwork of serenity. It's almost bubbly, a satirical introspective on the game of love. "Half Gate" is a powerhouse. It's the hesitant uplifter, the bridge reaching toward a conclusion that may or may not be on the other side.
As the title suggests, "Sun in Your Eyes" is sort of that conclusion. Shields is an album about the complications of personal relationships. It's about the barriers we put between ourselves and other people, or between ourselves and our desires. We don't enjoy putting up walls; we wish we didn't have to, but we just do it, for reasons we can't really explain. We know we want something different, but we don't know what it is; it always seems to be whatever we don't currently have. "Sun in Your Eyes" is a complicated way of moving on. There's an uncertainty involved in moving toward the sun. The other side could be different, or it might be the same. You'll never know because the damn sun hurts your eyes. "So bright, so long, I'm never coming back."
For more reviews on movies, TV, and music, see my blog at kofdrops.blogspot.com.… Expand
Dec 20, 2012Perhaps I'm not sophisticated enough, but I just don't always get what they want to say in their songs. They are great musicians and fantastic at expressing themselves, however I don't always understand the meanings of the songs and/or the analogies. But when I get that, it's truly awesome! It's a stunning and chilling kind of music and it's not wrongly named as one of the best CDs in the year 2012 on many critics' lists. A strong album, you definitely should check it out.… Expand
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